Posted tagged ‘student loans’

Fees, grants, loans: now we know the options

July 11, 2009

With the help of the Irish Times today, we now know what options have been put to the cabinet by the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, for student contributions to the cost of higher education. We also know that the Minister favours the option of student loans, under which all students will be able to enter third level education without any up-front payments, but will become liable to repay some of the cost once their annual income exceeds a minimum threshold. The sum to be repaid is likely to be somewhere between €20,000 and €30,000.

I will say that I am not against this plan in broad terms, but there are many matters of both principle and detail that will need to be addressed before it can be activated. Some of the questions to be answered will include the following:

• Will the liability to pay be totally unrelated to income and wealth?
• What will happen in the case of graduates who emigrate after studying at an Irish university or college?
• Who will fund the loans?
• At what point will the sums be payable to the higher education institutions?
• How will repayments be collected?
• Who will set fee levels?
• How will bad debts by graduates who default be handled?
• What level of additional funding by the exchequer is anticipated?
• Will grants be retained?

There is still no sign that the universities are to be briefed on the plans and included in the discussions before final proposals go to the cabinet. However, it is vital that this is done, because some of the issues that may arise cannot readily be analysed without university (or IOT) input. I still hope that a process of discussion with us will begin shortly. I shall certainly be pressing for it. Equally, it is important that students, alumni and their representatives are consulted.

Tuition fees – who can join the debate?

July 9, 2009

Today’s Irish Times has an opinion piece by the Education spokesperson of the Fine Gael party, Brian Hayes TD, on higher education funding. In this he repeats the Fine Gael policy of providing additional funding for the sector through special PRSI contributions from university graduates. It’s a thoughtful piece, and overall the proposals he makes are reasonable. Furthermore, as he suggests himself, this is probably going to be not a million miles away from the proposal being made by the Minister for Education and Science, Batt O’Keeffe TD, that there should be a framework of student loans (probably based in part on the Australian system).

In the circumstances we now face, all of this is probably the best way to go, and I suspect there will be broad support from the university sector. However, there is a need for discussions around the details, some of which will be significant. For example, how will the framework be administered? How will the system overcome the obvious problem that those who in fairness most need to make a contribution (graduates who leave the country on graduation) will not make one? What will be the net effect on higher education institutions – i.e. to what extent will the system actually inject more funds into the sector? How will the funds be ringfenced?

The great weakness in all of this right now is that nobody is talking about any of this to the universities and colleges.  Even Brian Hayes is proposing discussions between the opposition and the government, without apparently feeling there is any need to involve the institutions that are both affected by this and can advise most clearly on the implications. It is time to treat the sector as a partner, and to engage with it accordingly.