Improving access to higher education?
As has been noted here previously, whatever views one might have on the abolition of tuition fees in Ireland in the 1990s, one benefit that has not particularly flowed from this is improved access to higher education for the under-privileged. While in affluent areas, say in South Dublin, the participation rate is now pretty much 100 per cent, in deprived areas such as Ballymun, Finglas and Coolock (all within quite close reach of DCU) it is still well below 10 per cent. ‘Free fees’ have hardly affected this at all, so the argument in favour of them – that they help the under-privileged – is not borne out by any significant data.
In fact, it may be that the imposition of fees actually helps the disadvantaged. The most recent analysis of participation in higher education in England has shown that, amongst young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, participation has been increasing noticeably, just as fees have been rising. It may of course be that there is no connection between these two developments, but at any rate it tends to show that fees are not a disincentive where there are proper supports.
In Ireland, while we have improved the position of middle income earners, the national effort to improve access for the disadvantaged has only had quite a minor statistical impact. It is vital that we focus on this, because it would be a particular irony if the era of free fees, however long that may still last, were to have entrenched class divides in higher education. Right now that is how it looks.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.