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Report expected to make the case for capping places in college

Ruairí Quinn is set to receive a report outlining the need for student numbers to be capped in order to avoid the return of fees.

Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A NEW REPORT to be delivered to the Minister for Education this week is expected to outline the need for the government either to put an end to the ‘free fees’ scheme, or to enforce a strict cap on the capacity of Ireland’s colleges.

An interim sustainability, being prepared by the Higher Education Authority and to be delivered to the minister this week, will essentially consolidate the various funding options for the education sector.

TheJournal.ie understands that the report will argue that without the reintroduction of full undergraduate tuition fees, or an alternative payment model like a graduate tax or income-contingent loan fees, it will be necessary to enforce a strict cap on the number of places in colleges.

That cap – which would see a considerable reduction on the number of places available in the majority of courses – would fuel a further increase in the CAO points necessary for each college course.

Demand for places in Irish college courses, which is already oversubscribed in the vast majority of cases, is expected to be increased by the recent decision of the British government to increase tuition fees there – in some cases to £9,000 a year.

The average undergraduate college course costs around €10,000 to deliver each year, with students currently contributing €2,000 of this each year.

Gary Redmond of the Union of Students in Ireland this morning said the country’s financial situation meant the prospect of a graduate tax, or some kind of deferred loan system, would probably not be feasible.

“The country would have to borrow a huge amount of money to keep the system going for 15 to 20 years, until a loan system began to pay off,” he said. “The chances are it would be vetoed by the Troika anyway because it’s an even bigger borrowing”.

Points surge

Redmond said the capping of places in Medicine and related courses – which already carry the highest CAO points requirements because of the demand for places – would see points rise even further.

“Education should always be based on someone’s academic ability… capping numbers is only going to increase the stress on students,” he said.

Those courses are the most likely to be hit by a new lower capacity, given that they are the most expensive to run – with some medicinal courses costing up to €35,000 a year to run, with student contributions only covering €2,000 of that amount.

Redmond also called on Quinn to honour his pre-election pledge not to increase tuition fees or student contributions.

“Since then, the minister has come out and said things were worse than he thought,” Redmond said. “That’s absolute nonsense. Michael Noonan and Joan Burton said their manifestos were fully costed – both had access to the Department of Finance in the run-up to the election.

“Any U-turn on the part of the minister would be a cynical play to students and families to garner their votes.”

The government is expected to give some indication of its plans on third-level fees in the Budget in four weeks’ time, though the HEA’s full sustainability report on the third-level sector is not expected to be finished until the new year.

Over 60 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 25 are currently enrolled in higher education, while even more are in further education courses. The government has set a target of 72 per cent participation in higher education courses.

College and university heads have consistently called for the return of undergraduate tuition fees, pointing to the fall of Irish colleges in world university rankings as proof that the quality of teaching is falling as a result of financial limitations.

Education minister says the CAO system needs to change >

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Gavan Reilly

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