OK, another ‘no-fees’ statement

A few months ago the government, having (courtesy of the Green Party) committed itself to a position of not having third level tuition fees during the lifetime of the present coalition, passed the whole thing on to Colin Hunt’s strategic review group. The latter was then expected to report in March, but didn’t do so, and right now we expect to see a report in October or thereabouts. While waiting for that to happen, the Tánaiste (Minister for Education Mary Coughlan TD) has come out with a statement confirming that ‘there will be no reintroduction of third-level tuition fees in the Budget.’

I don’t really know what this statement is supposed to communicate. If you take it at face value, she is obviously right. First, it is not just inconceivable but actually impossible for fees to be reintroduced to take effect during the academic year about to begin. If they were to be reintroduced, the very earliest date for them to take effect would be September 2011, but realistically it would probably be a year later than that. Secondly, even if they were to be reintroduced tomorrow afternoon I don’t see that this would have any effect on the Budget. Fees, if they really were fees, would be paid to the universities and colleges. No change to the Budget would be needed (or sought).

So what is this statement about? The only thing that the Tánaiste can have intended with her statement was to send out some general mood music to reassure those worried about fees, presumably in particular middle class voters. Otherwise, what was the point? Or are we to see this as a general statement of intent suggesting longer term Fianna Fail opposition to fees, maybe beyond the next general election? Curious.

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5 Comments on “OK, another ‘no-fees’ statement”

  1. Pidge Says:

    I disagree that no change to the Budget would be required, whatever system of fees would be brought in.

    If it was straight up fees, then there’d be a significant part of the education budget lopped off. I got the sense when some people advocated third-level fees that they thought the government funding/payment of fees would be constant, which was obviously never going to be the case.

    If a loan/graduate tax system was brought in, there would be significantly increased costs for the exchequer, and repayments wouldn’t begin at the earliest for another seven or so years. I don’t think Ireland can afford such a system right now.

    • Actually, Pidge, you are not quite right. What the Tánaiste said was there would be ‘no reintroduction of … fees in the Budget’. Fees would not be introduced ‘in the Budget’. If they were introduced, of course the government might reduce the HE allocation, but that’s not what she was talking about; and in any case they wouldn’t have to.

      A loan/tax system also would have no Budget effect, as the Department of Finance already made it clear that this would be a deferred payment, with no money changing hands anywhere until the graduate makes a (much later) payment.

      But in any case, none of this would take effect in the next Budget anyway.

      The statement makes no sense whatsoever.

      • Vincent Says:

        Yes it does, it’s called a kite. It’s to see if the static generated would matter over much given that FF will have a meltdown in those middle class areas within the cities. Matter that is to the backwoods and if they will shoot at it.
        For myself, I think they would be better served going after the medics and the nurses by dismantling the connection between them and the civil service vote. In effect hijacking the FG policy with universal insurance. 25 billion is a very big target, and I always thought Harney had the brain to shoot at it. But it seems not.

      • Pidge Says:

        Sorry to go back and forth on this, but instituting a graduate scheme for repayments would take quite a bit to set up, money which would come from somewhere, and couldn’t simply be magicked up from a Dept. of Education master budget. Were fees to come back, and were they to come back with a graduate tax/income levy system, it would have to be done via the Budget, for two reasons:
        1. The reason above, in that the system would cost quite a bit to set up, and the funds for that setup would have to come from somewhere. These would be allocated in the budget.

        2. Instituting a future taxation measure or involving the state in a loan scheme would typically come through the budget, since it’s a financial matter.

        Also, the 1995 Budget included provisions relating to fees prior to fees themselves being abolished. I’m no fan of Mary Coughlan, but I think it’s pretty reasonable to say that fees would be mentioned in the Budget, were they to be introduced.

  2. Al Says:

    Is it more a reflection on us then it is on the Govt, when such a statement will pacify the masses whereby our fears of another incremental cost are eased for the moment, always in the background, but hey!! thats for another day….
    We only get away with it because we are world class..

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