Reduction of the student contribution of € 3,000 under study
The government is considering a reduction in student fees of € 3,000 as part of a new funding program for the third-level sector to be released next month.
It is also looking at a major expansion of scholarships, which would allow more families to qualify for free tuition and maintenance scholarships.
The plan is part of a larger set of policies to be released next month on the basis in part of a report on future third tier funding produced by the European Commission.
This report estimates that core funding of between 350 and 400 million euros is needed for higher education, in addition to existing funding levels.
Government sources have ruled out a student loan program to provide this additional funding and are in favor of increasing state contributions.
Politically, the decision to consider lowering student contributions appeals to the government, which is struggling to compete with Sinn Féin to attract younger voters.
Sinn Féin, for example, had already committed to the government to reduce the student contribution by at least € 500 each year, with the ultimate goal of completely abolishing charges.
Official figures show that it would cost the government around 40 million euros to reduce the student contribution by 500 euros and just over 80 million euros to reduce it by 1,000 euros. The cost of the total abolition of the license would be 245 million euros.
A combination of rising cost of living and continuing rises in rents has put the plight of students high on the political agenda, according to informed sources.
“Highest third level fees”
In addition, since the UK left the European Union, Ireland now has the third highest tier tariffs in Europe.
However, just under half of undergraduates do not pay a student contribution fee, as they are eligible for Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) scholarships.
A review of the student aid scheme, to be released next month, would recommend lowering income thresholds to allow more students to access these scholarships.
This assessment will be accompanied by proposals on the overall cost of the third cycle for students.
The latest research from TU Dublin, for example, indicates that the cost of living for students living away from home has fallen from just under € 12,000 to almost € 14,000 in the space of one year.
The decision to provide a sustainable funding base for the third tier, meanwhile, comes amid warnings from universities about a crisis facing the sector.
Research from the European Commission confirms that the sector is relatively underfunded compared to other third-level systems in Europe.
Jim Miley of the Irish Universities Association said investing in the country’s talent and innovation needs will be fundamental to a successful national recovery now and into the future.
“We have always looked for meaningful and lasting solutions for a system that is significantly underfunded,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Simon Harris said the minister briefed his colleagues on the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery from the European Commission’s review of third-tier funding.
She said the committee agreed with her proposal that student loans should not be seen as a viable option for a future system of sustainable higher education financing any more.
“It was also recognized that the report will recommend the need for an increase in core funding to achieve a sustainable system, which will need to be addressed through the Exchequer and Budget.” she said.
The spokeswoman added that Harris will engage with Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath to make proposals on future funding for higher education, alongside reform measures, in January.
She said this will be accompanied by proposals on the cost of the third level to the student and will be guided by the report on the student support program.