HEA recommendations at odds with free fees activists

The Government faces more headaches on third-level fees as students continue to campaign for free college while the higher education sector looks set to call for increased fees to prevent the system collapsing.

The Government-appointed Higher Education Authority has begun a review which aims to recommend how to fund a system already straining under the pressure of rising student numbers and falling funds.

The HEA set out a range of options late last year, including increased student contributions, a student loan scheme, or a graduate tax. But Education Minister Ruairi Quinn instead announced a rise to €2,250 a year in student contributions for those who do not receive a grant.

In a reflection of impatience across the third-level system with a perceived lack of government action on the issue, the HEA has started a further review of funding mechanisms, and painted a clear picture of the need for additional funding.

It warned late last year the quality of education — already said by colleges to be falling — would suffer further if the system is to cater for the boom in student numbers finishing school in the next few years.

“If we are going to meet the surge in demand, there has to be some way to fund it,” said a HEA spokesman. “It’s just not sustainable that the Exchequer is going to be able to continue to fund it at present levels.”

The Union of Students in Ireland announced last night that members have voted to reaffirm their campaign for free fees.

USI president Gary Redmond said it is critical for Ireland’s recovery that investment in higher education continues.

“USI’s core principle has always been to ensure equity of access for all students and our members have decided that the best way to ensure this is to continue the campaign for free third-level education,” he said.


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