OK, definitely no tuition fees …

The revised programme for government is now out, but oddly enough has (as far as I can tell) so far been made available only by the Green Party. Understandable perhaps, as it’s the result of their initiative. So it’s not surprising also that party members have adopted the programme enthusiastically. Here’s what it has to say on higher education:

Higher Education

• Conscious of the economic pressures on parents today, this Government will not proceed with any new scheme of student contribution for Third Level education.

• We will develop Higher Education Strategy to deliver a longer term vision and shorter term policy objectives for the sector.

• Examine the potential for greater co-operation and/or amalgamations between institutions to enhance system-wide performance reflecting the current economic reality

• Establish a new statutory agency to carry out the current functions of NQAI, HETAC and FETAC as well taking on responsibility for the external quality assurance of universities. Related functions of the NUI are also being examined in this regard.

The only one of these bullet points that matters is the first – the others describe processes already under way anyway, and don’t represent a change – though I might argue with the implications of the third point, suggesting current under-performance, and as I have mentioned before, the merging of quality assurance bodies may turn out to be damaging.

The decision regarding fees, however, will come back to haunt us. It is a bad decision, made for the wrong reasons. I have always accepted that the motives for the original introduction of the ‘free fees’ scheme were honourable, and that the parties at the time believed that this would widen participation and make available an equitable system of higher education. But now we know that is not the case, and this time the reasons are, I suspect, purely electoral. As the taxpayer is in no position to increase funding, or even maintain the existing totally inadequate levels, we are now facing a situation where the increasingly scarce resources will be concentrated on the wealthier sections of the population and the disadvantaged will be neglected. In addition, the sector as a whole will be asset stripped and will be unable to compete.

I know that there are others who, for perfectly understandable reasons, will not agree with this analysis. But I have been at the coalface now for a decade of trying to maintain a world class system of education with the resources that increasingly reflect the aspirations of a developing country. This decision may save votes, but will do long term damage to the sector. It is a bad day for higher education.

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15 Comments on “OK, definitely no tuition fees …”

  1. otto Says:

    Maybe you should be on the TV saying so…?

  2. Vincent Says:

    As we are talking about Science here, I think there is a case to be made for a campus where expensive material and testing equipment can have their use optimized. For the most part the days when Rutherford at the Cavendish had to dream up and make his own equipment are gone. So why do the seven not have that sort of stuff at the Curragh Camp.

  3. Lawrence Says:

    Change is never easy.

  4. Mary Says:

    What irks me is that this is clearly a sop to the Green Party’s key demographic… middle-class parents who are already sending their children to highly subsidised gaelscoileanna and who occasionally fret about the return of fees.

  5. Vincent Says:

    What I watched on the telly last night was the formal signing and Seal of the Death Warrant, by themselves. Irish people do not vote for tiny parties because they believe in their policy but because we like their moxie. And if they do not display suicidal tendencies, there is the whispering rasp of filleting knives on steel. It’s that lopping off of the breast because it interferes with the draw of the bow, the berserkers run at the foe, the headlong charge. But heaven help the berserker that halts halfway, for his eye-sockets will act as a quiver for the arrows of his friends.

  6. Aoife Citizen Says:

    I think the problem is partly that third level education is not a thing: we have the green economy and the smart economy and the contribution of the arts to our image abroad: we have no “education capital”, no real attempt to explain education as a distinct, valuable, sector, a player. I amn’t talking about the Universities, they do have a lobby, maybe not as strong or as clear a lobby as you would hope, but a lobby. However, that lobby never articulates a separate argument for education, as opposed to innovation and research and, frankly, the government has judged that the needs of innovation do not require excellence in education.

    We need to make a case for education: its worth to society, its value to industry, to innovation, to Ireland. All the third level institutions, maybe specifically the Dublin institutions but not just the Universities, but also the IT’s, NCAD, the NCI, the private colleges, the various institutes and societies, the language schools, need to brand Dublin as an educational capital, a place with an exceptional density of third level providers, some excellent, creating an important asset for the country and an important service to offer here and abroad.

    There should be an Education task force like the Innovation task force, recommending an education zone for language schools, tax-breaks for private colleges, shared housing initiatives for the Universities, development grants for education providers, high-profile attempts to attract or enable new institutions, reuse schemes for old civic buildings. The education capital: third level education should sell its case instead of defending its ground.

    • Perry Share Says:

      Aoife, what you are suggesting is an imaginative and forward-thinking, integrated higher education policy that focuses on Dublin. Given that the state has been unable to produce an integrated ticketing system for the 2 (count ’em!) companies that provide public transport in our capital, I think that an integrated educational centre of excellence is completely beyond the bounds of possibility. Nice idea though!

      • Aoife Citizen Says:

        Well I think the responsibility must be shared by the third level sector: they have failed to articulate a case for higher education.

        They have articulated a case for innovation and research: the smart economy and education has a place in this, a sort of second order argument that says education is an important component of the smart economy. This is a difficult and dangerous argument, is the immediate impediment to the smart economy related to education, will providing for the direct educational needs of the smart economy be good for education.

        We should make a separate case for higher education itself, in which the smart economy is one of a number of benefits. That has not been done.

  7. […] Ferdinand von Prondzynski writes that the decision … will come back to haunt us. It is a bad decision, made for the wrong […]

  8. Gordon Says:

    I’m extremely relieved that fees have been ruled out. My daughter will be able to go to university next year. It was very doubtful if she would have been able to if Lenihan had prevailed and introduced up front fees, and I was dreading loading my family with the tens of thousands of debt from a loans scheme. I’m bewildered why people think fees are a good idea. I’m from the UK where they are a national curse. People’s lives are being blighted for a dubious return. Ferdinand is simply dreaming if he thinks fees would give his university more money: governments simply claw the money back from their contribution. This has been the experience all around the world. I teach in an Irish university. I know we are underfunded but we do o.k., and, really, we must stop pretending we can offer a world class system. Even the UK only has a couple of world class universities. I went to one of them and I’m glad to be out of it.

    • Well actually, Gordon, in England the government has not clawed back the money – nor am I sure that many people’s lives are being blighted. And in Ireland we certainly don’t ‘do OK’…

      I would myself probably temperamentally and philosophically prefer a ‘free’ system of higher education, but in the end it just hasn’t worked for us.

  9. Hamish Says:

    Not only has the Scottish government got rid of fees and declared that their existence is an affront to social justice but they are also extending grants for those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and increasing the funding available to the universities. Considering how extremely limited their powers are in comparison to an independent country like Ireland it does raise some interesting questions about priorities and principles. But then of course I realise that from the time I worked in Dublin in the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years!

  10. Iainmacl Says:

    Hey! I thought I had the exclusive rights to comment on Scotland! Seems I have competition ! 😉

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