The student perspective on tuition fees

Over the past few years I have been asked from time to time to argue the case for tuition fees, sometimes on radio or television, and sometimes at debates or similar events. Pretty much on each occasion I would find that a student representative was also there, and every time they would put forward the case against fees. I might add that the case put by these students was often a very good one and well argued.

On one such occasion the student representative, rather to my surprise, told me afterwards in private that he didn’t actually feel that the case against fees was sustainable, but that he could not possibly say so in public. This prompted me, on other occasions, to put the question to each of the students in private conversation, and in all cases except one I got a similar response: that the opposition to fees was not necessarily sensible, but that they would be in trouble if they said so.

It was therefore interesting to see the report in yesterday’s Irish Times which rather corroborated this. Róisín Ingle interviewed a selection of students about their experience of higher education, and all of those who spoke about fees expressed a view that they should be reintroduced. I am of course not suggesting that all students take this view, or even a majority (I have no way of knowing), but I suspect that student opinions in this matter are much less uniform than is sometimes supposed. Here the evidence appears to be that at least some students are willing to contemplate either fees or graduate charges. Another conclusion that could be reached – and which our timid politicians might like to note – is that the electoral impact of fees may be much less predictable than one might think.

As we are being warned yet again of further cuts in public funding to come, it is necessary to emphasise that this will have a major impact on the universities’ capacity to offer education of any kind of acceptable quality. A different approach is needed.

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22 Comments on “The student perspective on tuition fees”

  1. Vincent Says:

    The biggest problem here is that no one has put forward a plausible and fair way to abate the fees to those that have such a need.
    I in an earlier post mentioned the Harvard blanket fee, where then the student makes a case to the Uni.
    But the single biggest problem is that trust is missing. None believes the Gov’, none the Pro Bono of the Uni’s, and this includes the Gov’. So they are caught in this nasty little worst of all worlds for everyone.
    And here is my oar about a Grad’ tax.
    What exactly is the point. If the goal is to get 75% into some sort of post 2nd education, why on earth not put 2-3% on income-tax. For the 25% will be made up of the 7% unemployed another 6% disabled, leaving 12% not paying. Given the lower/minimum wage will never enter any tax bracket that 12%+ will not be bothered.

    • wendymr Says:

      why on earth not put 2-3% on income-tax.

      Because, regardless of whether low-income-earners end up paying it or not, it would be political suicide for any party that suggested it, let alone implemented it.

      Additionally, if general income tax were to be raised, I have no doubt that university funding would come well down the priority list for those additional revenues.

      • In fact, no government could declare that they are raising tax to pay for HE, as citizens think we are already over-funded. It would be electoral suicide. And if they raise taxes without specifically targeting HE, you can be sure that we wouldn’t get the proceeds. Actually, we wouldn’t get it even if they did say that that’s what it’s for. Taxation cannot be ringfenced.

        • Vincent Says:

          Call it a levy then. But it must be for everyone that goes beyond 2nd level. What’s the point of having a plumber or a plasterer in receipt of one to one tuition for most of their Craft qualification and then earning well over the top lecturer grade not paying anything. For if we are going that road why confine it to the Universities. They, the university student are far from being to only ones currently subsidised and are very far from being the most expensive. Including the medics.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    Fee abatement for the needy is not a problem: the Higher Education grant scheme dealt with it. So it would be very easy to re-introduce it. In the old scheme there were four levels of grant: half fees, full fees, full fees + half maintenance, full fees + full maintenance. A sensible system which some people are keen to igore.
    There were anomalies as some families, particularly where the main earner was self-employed, were able to exploit the system. But the intelligent thing is to reform the system to remove these. The best should not be the enemy of the good or hard cases make bad law.
    That students are apparently open to the re-introduction of fees but unwilling to say so is a sad reflection on student politics. Once, student politics was notable for its radicalism but now it seems to be all about reactionary self-interest.

    • Vincent Says:

      Yeah RIGHT..
      The ordinary rates of the maintenance grant for 2010 are:
      Rates Non-Adjacent Rate Adjacent Rate
      Full Maintenance €3,250 €1,300
      Part maintenance (75%) €2,435 €980
      Part maintenance (50%) €1,625 €650
      Part maintenance (25%) €810 €330

      It would not keep you in pizza for the year.

      • kevin denny Says:

        You must eat a lot more pizza than I do Vincent. But, in any event, you are completely missing the point since this was about covering fees – which are zero at the moment. So if fees were re-introduced you just ensure that the Grant resumes covering them as it did for many many years. Easy peasy.

        • Perry Share Says:

          Fees are not ‘zero’ at the moment – they are at least €1500 per annum. Admittedly this is not payable if you are on a grant. Fees for ‘part-time’ students start at about €2500 per annum. Of course there are no grants for them, though if they are fortunate enough to be in job they can claim tax relief.

  3. Ernie Ball Says:

    Ferdinand, why don’t you make a post with a link to your Irish Times article today so we can comment on that?

  4. colummccaffery Says:


    Students who support the introduction of fees are afraid to say so!
    Politicians too support the introduction of fees but are too timid to say so!
    There is silent electoral support for the introduction of fees!


    If someone proposing the reintroduction of fees would say how much they have in mind and the income levels of those expected to pay, we could have a debate.

    • Perry Share Says:

      Well said Colum! I have yet to see any proposal that actually puts forward the figures. All I have seen so far is rhetoric.

      As for yesterday’s Irish Times ‘report’. Seven students interviewed, all in their early 20s, 4 at Trinity, all based in large cities (Dublin, Cork). Hardly representative of students in Ireland; all representative of the Irish Times (desired) readership.

      I would be interested to know what the views of mature-age, regional IoT students on fees are, or those at DIT or NUI Maynooth. Possibly not like those from Trinity 🙂

      USI, which represents Irish students (more than anyone else does anyway) is a democratic organisation with frequent discussions of policy. If there was a strong student pro-fees movement out there, I suspect it would be manifested in USI and other individual student union policies.

      I would pay more attention to USI policy on the issue than to Roisin Ingle’s skewed sample of about 0.006%!

      • Perry, you said: ‘Well said Colum! I have yet to see any proposal that actually puts forward the figures. All I have seen so far is rhetoric.’

        Gee, Perry and Colum, I’ve been doing that till I’m blue in the face… 🙂

        • Perry Share Says:

          OK, can you please post the specific information here, which will indicate the fees to be charged for a variety of popular programmes; the cut-off points for which people will be liable for fees; the basis on which fees are to be calculated; the way in which the additional income gained is to be used to increase access for ‘disadvantaged’ students, and the mechanisms, if any, for the up-front and/or deferred payment of fees. If this is already out there, can you point me towards it as I’m still fixing timetables and time is precious!

        • Ferdinand,
          I’d settle for less than Perry. Please say very roughly how much an annual fee would be, very roughly at what income level fees would be payable, and if part fees are to be paid below this income level, roughly how much and at what income levels?

  5. >Students who support the introduction of fees are afraid to say so!
    I wonder if you asked the students’ parents would you get a different answer. In reality very few students (apart from mature students) pay fees in any country -mostly they are paid on their behalf by their parents.

  6. Kevin O'Brien Says:

    Maybe it is not a case that these students “support” fees, but a case that they see that there is a funding problem that needs to be resolved one way or the other.

    • Perry Share Says:

      And what options are they presented with? We already have amongst the highest undergraduate fees in Europe. Why is this? How do countries that are allegedly ‘poorer’ than us manage to provide tertiary education to their citizens? The debate has become very narrow – the ‘There is no alternative’ people on one side and the ‘No to fees’ people on the other. There needs to be a much broader debate on the issue that doesn’t just look to the UK, the US and Australia.

      • Perry, you wrote: ‘How do countries that are allegedly ‘poorer’ than us manage to provide tertiary education to their citizens?’

        I think you need to start factoring in quality. Any country can provide tertiary education without charging fees. But will it be any good? Most countries provide higher education which is much lower in quality than ours.

  7. […] is opinion in these matters anyway?  It seems that views vary, even amongst students.  And as Ferdinand von Prondzynski suggests, “the electoral impact of fees may be much less predictable than one might […]

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