College ‘will not keep’ €250 extra student fee

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has told college bosses they will not be allowed keep the €250 extra that most students must pay next year — and says the Higher Education Authority should not be seeking such "massive increases" for the sector.

She said it would cost €18.5m to adopt HEA chief executive Tom Boland’s suggestion in the Irish Examiner this week that the rise in student contributions — to €3,000 next year — might stay in their colleges instead of the Government reducing their allocation to each institution by that amount.

Instead, the Department of Education said Ms O’Sullivan’s focus for Budget 2015 on keeping up with continuing rises in pupil numbers in schools.

A spokeswoman said she has already discussed the idea of colleges keeping the fee increase with the HEA, universities, and institutes of technology.

“She has been clear in each of those meetings that the forthcoming budget is not one which will see significant increases in expenditure such as this,” said the spokeswoman.

In a hint at better news for schools, however, the department outlined some areas likely to be the focus of her efforts to “protect the education system to the greatest degree possible”.

“She is working to protect class sizes in our schools, to increase the number of special needs assistants and resource teachers available to support children with special needs, and to improve the quality of pre-school education that our children receive,” the spokeswoman said.

“With enormous increases to the numbers of children and students in Ireland, achieving those objectives will be extremely difficult. This is not the time for state agencies to be seeking massive increases to other areas of public spending.”

An expert group was set up to examine future funding options that the Government might consider. They are likely to include forms of increased student fees — with loan, graduate tax, or other payment methods — but also a possibility of more public investment.

However, with its final report not due until late next year and even with Ms O’Sullivan committed to making political decisions before the next general election, Mr Boland said keeping the extra €250 per student in their colleges might help prevent more immediate risks to quality for students. Despite having 15% more students than in 2008 but 13% less staff, third-level colleges face another 1% cut to the €970m Government spend on their pay and other non-capital costs in 2015.

At an Irish Universities Association symposium on Monday Trinity College Dublin provost, Patrick Prendergast said extending staffing controls and budget cuts would cost the economy as our universities’ reputations would slip further.

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