Student loans deal is ‘best of a bad list’ say parents

PARENTS have given cautious backing to plans for a student loans scheme to replace free college fees, describing it as the best of a bad list of options.

Rose Tully, spokeswoman for the National Parents Council-Post Primary (NPC-PP) said while the organisation has no specific policy on the issue, it will be discussed at a meeting later this month.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe is increasingly expected to recommend a system where the Government pays each student’s tuition costs up front and recoups most of the money in loan repayments after he or she begins earning a certain income. Such a prospect was boosted by weekend comments from Green Party Communications Minister Eamon Ryan, who said he could accept a system which did not mean students having to pay while attending college.

The Green Party said Mr Ryan was speaking in a personal capacity.

Ms Tully said a loans scheme could take the pressure off parents and that students could pay off their fees quickly enough after graduating. “I can understand students being angry about this but some form of fees is inevitable and this is probably the best of the various options. Parents would obviously prefer if their sons or daughters didn’t have to pay at all, but it is better than being deprived of third level education because of a lack of money at home,” said Ms Tully.

“However, it will be later this year before any decision is made and we feel the minister should have some consultation with parents’ groups beforehand as it is our children who are at school now who will be facing these charges.”

Despite Mr Ryan’s positive approach, thecabinet is not expected to discuss the issue until after the summer break, with a final decision not likely before October.

Mr O’Keeffe’s spokesperson said the intention of circulating a report last week to cabinet, setting out the various options on student fees, was to get the observations of otherministers.

The issue will almost certainly be debated at the Green Party special convention in Dublin on Saturday, where delegates will be asked to give their views on the planned review of the Programme for Government.

While the June 2007 agreement did not specifically refer to the abolition of the free fees system, Green Party TDs were elected on a manifesto which included a commitment to maintaining the status quo.

Fine Gael spokesman Brian Hayes – who has proposed a graduate tax where part of their tuition fees would be repaid over 10 to 15 years by workers through PRSI and ring-fenced for higher education – said yesterday he might be able to meet the minister half way on his proposals if there were also radical reforms of higher education.

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