A SURVEY of how third-level colleges have been spending the €1,500 registration fee paid by students has been ordered by Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe.
He told the Dáil the Higher Education Authority (HEA) had previously been satisfied that student services above the value of the €900 fee, paid by students themselves or on their behalf by the State through the grants system, were provided by colleges in return.
However, following recent claims by student union representatives that figures they obtained show that at least two colleges put some of the money back into their budgets for other services, the minister has asked for a detailed study to be carried out of college accounts.
A number of college heads have already called for a further increase next year in the registration fee they can charge, which rose 66% to €1,500 this autumn. It is strongly expected that funding for the third-level sector could be cut by up to 10% in next week’s budget.
Mr O’Keeffe was responding to Fine Gael education spokesperson Brian Hayes, who asked whether the minister would expect any colleges which might not have provided services to the value of the registration income to refund students. He accused the minister of reintroducing college fees by the back door.
The minister said he would regard any such overcharging in a poor light but said this was why he has asked the HEA to assess how the registration fees have been used. He said that the findings of student unions that money raised from the fees was not all being spent on student services emerged because of accountancy issues.
Mr O’Keeffe also told the Dáil there has been some progress in discussions between his department and representatives of the Protestant churches over the withdrawal of support grants for their schools, which he had been advised were unconstitutional because they were not available for other schools.
The minister said his secretary general met last week with Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Dr John Neill and Bishop of Cork Dr Paul Colton and they have agreed to provide information on any schools which have experienced particular difficulties with funding for poorer Protestant students who relied on the extra funding to allow them avail of boarding in fee-paying second-level schools because there is no school of their ethos in their own area.
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