Fees – the debate continues
A day or two since Batt O’Keeffe TD, Minister for Education and Science, put third level fees ‘back on the agenda’, it is not entirely easy to see what the ‘agenda’ may be. According to the latest report in the Irish Times, the Minister may now even be suggesting that fees would be for millionaires only.
There are some worrying implications in such statements. First, there is no point having a framework for fees at all if we are only envisaging a very small number of people who would be asked to pay them. The cost and complications of such an infrastructure would be horrendous, and the game would not be worth the candle. Secondly, there is just a hint in all this that what the Minister may have in mind is a system under which fees are used to off-set the government’s contribution to the sector, rather than to add resources. Any hint that fees will be clawed back would make the whole idea useless in addressing the funding needs of the sector.
A sensible way of looking at fees is to identify three groups of people: (i) those who can afford to pay fees, either because of family incomes or through appropriate loan systems; (ii) those who cannot realistically afford to pay fees; and (iii) those who cannot afford to pay and who may also need additional financial support. There also needs to be an understanding that the purpose of introducing fees is to secure additional valuable resources for the third level sector.
It is to be hoped that the terms of the discussion will be set out shortly in a succinct manner.