Avoiding excessive student debt

Last year in Ireland the Cassells Report (Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education) offered three options for funding higher education. The third of these (deferred payment of fees through income-contingent loans) was clearly seen as the best option, as it appeared to provide the most realistic proposal that might actually lead to more resources for universities and colleges; the other two options were nice in theory, but required the state to spend more on higher education, which it has not shown much inclination to do.

Now however the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD, has ruled out student loans as the way forward,  as he does not want a system that would leave students re-paying substantial debts. In my own opinion, the Taoiseach is right. I am not keen on the Australian/English model, and nor apparently is the British Prime Minister, much. The levels of debt that the English system is causing amongst young people is a real problem, as it has been in Australia, where massive sums remain unpaid.

I believe in fee contributions from those who can afford them, but not fees and loans for all. I doubt that the taxpayer in many countries, or possibly any country, can afford to fund the full cost of a high-quality university system, but the state must pay a substantial part of the cost (more than is the case now in these islands), and those who can afford it must make a contribution. In reality, that is there only way forward; and almost no politician will admit it.

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4 Comments on “Avoiding excessive student debt”


  1. And there is also the additional measure of making higher education more efficient. That would help too. Oh, yeah, and we could stop cross-subsidising research.

  2. Vince Says:

    There are three types of student when we’re dealing with fees. One, the historic group that can afford fees no matter what level you put them. Lets call these the legacies. Then we have the segment, and by far the largest segment, that earn north of 40,000. And who can afford one kid in university but more than one would be impossible. Then we have those that in the current climate cannot afford to attend at all regardless how fees are structured.
    Where I’ve been on this for quite some time having once been a confirmed ‘free fees for all’ person is the Harvard system. Where the university is private. It, pays the wages and pensions of it’s personnel. And it levies a fee on all students. But then it has a sliding scale based on need of how much it lowered BOTH fees and food&shelter.
    I was one of those that couldn’t get into university without a fee covering system of some sort (thank you EU). But while there the system changed and the free fees came in and I watched the price of accommodation in Galway rocket. I saw students with a bit of money buy three and four houses to let out. I watched the money that was going to pay fees go now to pay for a roof. And some of these places were so sub par that I wonder if the denizens haven’t had cancer episodes since what with all the various growths on the walls.
    In general the question is being framed wrongly. Or at least there’s a streak of political nastiness and perhaps naiveté coloring the reasoning. We are where we are because the bean counters in the exchequer PVed the costs of the university system and came up with a number so vast that it was having a direct current cost on the borrowing of money to run the State. So their answer was to ‘off balance sheet’ the problem. They knew the majority of the debts would be written off. However while solving somewhat one problem they parked it on a gigantic number, and growing all the time, with debts that dragged against their credit rating.
    In one way you have to laugh a bit. Where the Tories saw that selling off council flats would form little right wingers, Labour of the Blair hew saw Uni as the means to form little Liberals, but the debts formed a cohort of real Left. Hopefully with more a grasp on realism than the crew that ruined the field in the 70s.

  3. paulmartin42 Says:

    “At the moment, new starters and current students are charged 4.6% – the March 2016 RPI figure of 1.6%, plus 3% – on their loans. But from September this will rise to 6.1%, made up of the March 2017 figure of 3.1%, plus 3%.” via the Guardian

    “Excessive debt” is not helped by the Student Loan Company of Glasgow charging far more than the Bank of England base rate. The outstanding amount due from my daughter, a few years back was actually going up despite her repayments.


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