O’Keeffe pledges to ‘family-proof’ third-level fees impact

AN expert report on the possible reintroduction of third-level fees should be before cabinet by September.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe told the Joint Oireachtas Education Committee work was continuing on cutting costs and boosting revenue across the third-level sector. He said this would include raising funds through philanthropy and in other countries there was direct student contribution. “There are strong equity arguments that those who benefit from higher education and who can afford to contribute to the costs of their higher education should be asked to do so,” he said.

A technical report on the various options is being prepared and the minister said some points had needed to be redrawn in light of the recent supplementary budget.

The issue of fees has raised worries for students and parents but the minister said: “As far as possible I am going to try and family-proof the implications of these measures.”

Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes questioned whether the delay in bringing the report before cabinet was due to the upcoming elections, a charge denied by the minister.

Regarding registration fees, Mr O’Keeffe said: “€1,500 is quite a serious charge, I accept that, [as for] the cut-off point, I wish it were higher... but given the financial circumstances we are in it is impossible to do that at the present time.”

He stressed any re-introduction of fees, or any decision regarding student contributions, would be made at cabinet level.

Independent TD Joe Behan said he welcomed the minister’s “rowing back” on the issue of fees, but said he should now “row back all the way”.

Responding to a question from Labour’s Ruairi Quinn, Mr O’Keeffe said “I certainly at this stage would not envisage the money [raised through fees or contributions] going back into the Department of Finance.”

Students entering third level this autumn are unlikely to be impacted by any decision on fees, but from 2010 the impact would be felt.

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