No input from Department of Finance in promise to freeze college fees

No input from Department of Finance in promise to freeze college fees

Education Minister Joe McHugh's political promise to freeze college fees for five years was made without any input from the Department of Finance, the Irish Examiner understands.

The promise to freeze fees at €3,000 a year for college students was made by Mr McHugh despite ongoing demands from universities for the Government to address a major funding shortfall in the sector.

The comments made in an interview with a Sunday newspaper were part of a coordinated effort from the Taoiseach's office to appeal to voters ahead of an expected General Election later this year.

“This was a political promise and Finance had no role or input to it being made,” said a senior government source.

Meanwhile, the Irish Universities Association (IUA) has called on Mr McHugh to make clear how he intends to pay for his promise while dealing with the long-term funding crisis at third-level.

The lobby group for the country's seven universities said State funding per student has fallen 43% or €4,000 per student over the last decade.

”It’s time for positive solutions on funding for tuition and education by the Minister and the government,” the IUA said.

Minister McHugh has made clear that Fine Gael and the Government will not introduce student loans and will not increase fees. So, that tells us what the Minister will not do, we now need to hear what he and Fine Gael will do to solve the long-accepted funding crisis.

The IUA said it would welcome a firm indication of what the Minister means by the “ultimate solution coming from the autonomy of the third level colleges”.

“Universities are prepared to play their part and have already taken as much action as they can within the current restrictions, though large scale cost reductions and by generating extra income through a variety of means including industry partnerships, philanthropy and international students,” the IUA said.

Fianna Fáil's education spokesman Thomas Byrne accused Mr McHugh of copying his party's long-held policies about freezing fees.

“This was our policy ahead of the 2016 General Election. There appears to be nothing new here from the minister,” Mr Byrne said.

Mr Byrne also said last year the State's contribution to the core funding of colleges decreased last year and said the minister must state clearly how he will address the funding crisis.

State funding per third-level student for core activities, as reported by the Higher Education Authority, has fallen from almost €9,000 per student a decade ago to just over €5,000 now. Some modest increases in funding have been provided over the last two budgets.

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