Failure to agree on third-level funding will damage careers of Irish students

Date Uploaded: 24/11/2016

Peter Cassells says student loan scheme is one of a number of viable options

A failure to agree soon on how to fund higher education will end up damaging the career prospects of a new generation of Irish students, the author of a major report on third level education investment has warned.

Peter Cassells, chair of the expert group on future funding for higher education, will tell an Oireachtas committee on Thursday that maintaining the status quo will have major costs for students and the wider economy.

His report, published earlier this year, found that the higher education sector was facing a crisis following years of funding cuts and rising student numbers.

The report advocated three options for funding, including an income-contingent loan scheme for students, along with greater contributions from the State and employers.

With students numbers set to grow by more than 25 per cent over the next 15 years, the report found found that an additional €100 million each year is needed to boost the sector. However, just €35 million will be invested in higher education next year, resulting in a further overall reduction in funding per student, according to experts.

Demographic changes

In a presentation to be delivered to the committee, Mr Cassells will say the current system of funding higher education is “no longer sustainable”.

“The current system fails to recognise the pressures facing higher education institutions and the scale of the coming demographic changes,” his presentation states.

“It also fails to fully recognise the pressures on families and students, not just because of the €3,000 fee, but also the high living and maintenance costs associated with studying and successfully progressing through college.”

Mr Cassells will say that early agreement on a reformed integrated funding system for higher education is crucial. This, he says, will require a constructive and realistic discussion of the funding challenges and options set out in the report.

But he warns: “So far in the debate on the report, there would appear to be general agreement on the funding requirements.

“However when it comes to funding those requirements, different stakeholders naturally continue to have a particular model of funding as their first preference. We must move beyond this stage.”

Status quo

He says a discussion which does not converge, yielding only restatement of first preferences and consequent stalemate, will simply consolidate the status quo.

“The status-quo is not a cost-free option,” he says. “The existing funding system imposes costs in terms of the quality of student experience, the exclusion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the future career opportunities for Irish graduates in a mobile labour market and, ultimately, the overall contribution of higher education to Irish economic and social development.”

Mr Cassells says the number of students in higher education is growing by 3,000, requiring an additional 350 staff. This costs up to €25 million alone on an annual basis.

“All of this in the view of the expert group will require a comprehensive and fundamental change to our funding model.

“We should have an open and considered discussion on this challenge but one that ultimately leads to bold decisions and decisive action.”


Journalist: Carl O'Brien

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