UCC head says fees debate has to move on

A debate about more than just student loans is needed to advance decisions about funding third level, says a university president.

The issue has been stalled at a political level as no recommendation on how to boost higher education funding has emerged from the Oireachtas education committee. It had been asked by Education Minister Richard Bruton 18 months ago to come up with proposals.

Mr Bruton secured staggered increases in employer input into a national training fund in the last budget, but the income will only provide a fraction of the extra €600m the system needs annually by 2020.

Professor Patrick O’Shea, president of University College Cork, said the debate has devolved to one about being either for or against a system of income-contingent loans to underpin increased student fees.

That was just one of a number of options proposed for consideration in the report of an expert group chaired by Peter Cassells, with significantly increased taxpayer investment also on the menu it has put forward.

Prof O’Shea said the debate needs to be widened and encompas developing a vision for the future of higher education.

“It should also be about addressing our capacity for the demographic bulge we know is coming. We will have a growth of 40,000 extra students coming into the system in the next 10 years.

“That means we’re going to need a lot of infrastructure, both teachers and buildings. And we need to look at how we can be creative and effective and flexible in developing a model to cater for that,” said Prof O’Shea.

Meanwhile, UCC is involved with institutes of technology in Cork, Tralee, Waterford, and Carlow in one of four clusters of colleges to share a €5.7m fund aimed at widening access for underrepresented students.

At least 10% of places are to be targeted at lone parents with the allocations being announced today by Mr Bruton and the minister of state for higher education.

Three other clusters, involving third-level institutions in the Mid-West, Dublin, and Leinster are also being supported. Revised proposals have been invited from two other groupings in Leinster and in the west and north-west regions.

The colleges aim to attract and retain an extra 2,000 new students, full- and part-time, including first-time mature students, people with disabilities, and entrants from socioeconomic groups with low third-level participation rates.

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