… and the debate on fees continues
Another day, another bout of media coverage on tuition fees. On the whole, this is a good debate for the sector, but there are also some red herrings. For my own part, I am increasingly of the view that we need to emphasise and re-emphasise the two most important points in this debate: (a) that the Irish higher education system is horribly under-resourced; and (b) that the current ‘free fees’ framework is actually preventing money from being directed effectively to the lower income groups so that they too can properly access the university sector.
I understand why those who introduced free fees thought this would be a good idea: but since then the evidence has been overwhelming that it has not been, and that the stated goal of increasing participation from disadvantaged groups has not been furthered in this way. Instead, the main effect has been to asset starve the universities while channelling money to the well off. I find it hard to see how this could be justified.
The debate as a whole is welcome, but it is to be hoped that we will not end up with a system that targets the super rich with high income thresholds for the payment of fees. That will not work in practice, will be highly bureaucratic and will bring in only very small amounts of money. It will also create undesirable effects in the cases of those who may well have wealthy families but do not have access to their funds. Whether someone is able to pay fees needs to be assessed in a much more sophisticated way.
It is likely that we will all be able to see much more clearly how all this will go when the university presidents have had an opportunity to meet the Minister and discuss these matters with him.