Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan has refused to rule out introducing third-level fees, if Labour is re-elected, due to the need to reform the funding systems of universities and colleges.
At the launch of her party’s education policy document yesterday, the Limerick TD declined to say that fees would not be imposed.
Under the current system, students must pay a contribution of between €2,000 and €3,000. Colleges and universities have warned the funding is not adequate to meet demand.
In summer 2014, the then education minister, Labour’s Ruairi Quinn, asked Peter Cassell of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to examine alternative funding options by December 2015.
The document will not now be concluded before the summer, with leaks suggesting that if the State does not increase annual funding by €500m-€1bn, student fees and a potential student loans system may be needed.
Responding to questions in Limerick alongside Tánaiste Joan Burton, Ms O’Sullivan said while “there shouldn’t be barriers to access to third level or any other level of education” she could not rule out the introduction of fees or a loan system.
“We’re not going to pre-judge the outcome of the Cassell report. We’re not ruling anything either in or out.”
Labour’s education plan includes commitments to end the use of prefabs, reduce class sizes, increase multidenominational school numbers, and extend free part-time third-level education to those at work for up to 100,000 people.
Ms O’Sullivan also said her party will cut the student contribution fee by €500 in the next budget “to take some of the pressure from parents”.
She said the commitment differs from Mr Quinn’s pre-election promise in 2011 not to raise the contribution, before doing so months later, because her colleague had to prioritise ensuring children “had a school to go to”.
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