O’Keeffe signals new ‘deferred payment scheme’ for fees

MINISTER of Education, Batt O’Keeffe has offered a 20 per cent discount for students who pay their university fees upfront as part of plans involving a deferred payment scheme being considered by the Government.This move could potentially produce €70 million per year for the third-level education sector on top of €350 million invested by the state. This deferred payment scheme could mean students will have an option to pay their fees after they have graduated from university, when earning a certain level of income. This proposal has been referred to as an ‘income-contingent loan scheme’. However if students were to pay these fees upfront, as opposed to after graduating, then they would receive a 20 per cent discount.A spokesman for Minister O’Keeffe has said that “no group will be unfairly burdened” by the proposal for third-level education fees. The new fee-payment package would be based on affordability and the need to widen access for the disadvantaged members of society.At present it is believed that only very high-income households will be liable for the payment of third-level fees. However, the level of this ‘high-income’ has yet to be decided.Mr O’ Keeffe has told members of the HEA that he wants to put more funding into the third-level education system, while ensuring affordability.The issue of university fees has become more prevalent in recent months in line with governmental cutbacks in all areas of public spending. In light of this, at a recent HEA meeting, board members called on UCD and other third-level institutes to limit exceptional payments to academics.Should the Cabinet above approve the Minister’s college fees package further to his main recommendations, it has been speculated that they may look to the National Strategy Group on Higher Education, to clarify the details. The recently appointed group, chaired by economist Dr Colin Hunt, is currently preparing a report that is due for completion by the end of 2009.The new third-level fees system is likely to be introduced in September 2010. Most students will not be subject to the repayment of fees until at least 2013, three years after they graduate. No student already studying at third-level will become liable for any new charges.