Third-level fees decision to come ‘after budget’

PROSPECTIVE college students will have to wait until after next week’s budget to find out if they must pay some type of fees from next year.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has told the Irish Examiner that his report on the various student funding options will not be ready in time for the budget next Tuesday, but he does expect to bring a recommendation to the cabinet later this month.

It is strongly speculated that he favours a student contribution system similar to that in Australia, where the state would still pay tuition fees but graduates would repay some or all of the costs after they begin earning a salary above certain incomes.

The minister told the Irish Examiner there is still some “tweaking” to be done and that he has decided to wait until after the budget issues “settled down”.

“The negotiations on the budget and the [spending] estimates were so intense, it wasn’t the appropriate time to be dealing with the issue,” he said at Cork Institute of Technology.

However, he reaffirmed that any plans that might get cabinet approval in the next few weeks would not affect students starting this autumn.

The minister said he was confident that the budget next week would still allow quality education to be delivered in schools, although he would not speculate what if any measures might be announced.

However, the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said it makes no economic sense that hundreds of part-time and non-permanent teachers are already set to lose jobs as the net gain to the exchequer would be no more than €5,000 for every job. The union estimates that 1,200 second-level jobs will be lost in second-level schools this autumn.

TUI general secretary Peter MacMenamin said most of those who lose jobs will be less experienced teachers on the lower end of the scale and most will not be on full-time hours, meaning their earnings would be around €25,000 after tax and other deductions of €10,000.

“If unemployed, he or she will now have to be paid social welfare of around €10,000 and the cost to the exchequer in the form of taxation income lost, together with the social welfare benefit being paid, will bring the ‘saving’ to the exchequer of this newly unemployed citizen to approximately €5,000,” he said.


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