Fianna Fáil promises to freeze third-level fees despite surging costs

Fianna Fáil has claimed it will freeze third-level student contribution fees for five years if it is elected to government, despite chronic under-funding affecting the system which could force costs to surge.

Education spokesman Charlie McConalogue made the commitment to cap the contribution at the launch of the party’s education policy document yesterday, insisting the move is achievable if additional taxpayer funds are used instead.

The Donegal TD said the contribution has doubled to €3,000 since 2012 and is now preventing some families from sending their children to college.

He said there is “absolutely no justification for increasing fees for the foreseeable future” and that registration costs would be frozen “at their current levels” for at least five years if Fianna Fáil is elected.

The commitment follows the announcement by Education Minister Jan O Sullivan on Tuesday that her party, Labour, will cut the student contribution fee by €500 if elected.

While Fianna Fáil has committed to increasing third-level funding by €500m, neither party has clarified if a separate student fees or loans system will be set up if it is recommended by an independent report commissioned by the Department of Education this summer.

The independent report, being undertaken by former Ictu general secretary Peter Cassell, is expected to say a new fees system is one of a number of options that must be considered as third-level budgets are about €500m to €1bn short of demand.

This means parties may have to choose between further general taxation or a new system to bypass pre-election promises to keep funding the institutions.

The Fianna Fáil education policy document includes plans to increase the number of primary school teachers by 5,500 over the next five years; reduce class sizes to 23 pupils or fewer by 2021; and to increase teacher numbers for small rural schools — an issue likely to be a pressure point between the coalition and the opposition party.

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