Tuition fees on or off the table?
As we all know, the Irish government parties – Fianna Fail and the Green Party – reached an agreement last October in their revised programme for government to exclude the possibility of reintroducing tuition fees. But if this was an attempt to kill off the idea, it was an ineffective one. First, there has been all that fuss about whether we have fees anyway in the form of the student service charge. But now we also gather, courtesy of a report in the Sunday Times, that the steering group overseeing the strategic review of higher education is to recommend that a student contribution should form part of the higher education funding model.
Assuming this is accurate, how will it be received? It is hard to see how the government can get out of the corner it has allowed itself to be boxed into in relation to fees. So if Fianna Fail in particular feel that they might want to run with this proposal, presumably they could only do so in a new government; but would they find it easy to go into an election with a commitment to consider fees, which would probably be unpopular with some key voters?
To make the case for tuition fees easier, the universities themselves need to become better communicators about this. It seems to me that the following issues need to be faced in public debate:
• better information on how universities spend their money and use their resources;
• the consequences of the decline in higher education public funding;
• the relationship between tuition fees and the objective of widening participation;
• the financial pressures on various sections of society that would flow from fees;
• the potential for targeted support for groups needing help from fee income;
• a commitment to admit students on ability only, and that nobody would have to forgo a university education on financial grounds.
I may of course have missed other important issues connected with tuition fees – comments on this would be welcome. Starting tomorrow, for the next few days, I intend to address each of these issues separately, in order to present a view of what issues and dangers we face and whether and how these would be addressed by tuition fees.Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, university comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.