#stopfees – Educate Together

 Political and Business correspondent Jim O’ Brien discusses the future of third level tuition

The topic of tuition fees has again hit the news headlines of late. The government argues that something has to be done to insure our third level institutions are adequately funded to compete on a global scale. This year’s university rankings have seen not one Irish university make it into the top 100. So what is going wrong? First, let’s discuss the parameters used to rank each institution. The first one is student/teacher ratio. The lower it is, the more points awarded. For the last number of years, the public service has been hot with a recruitment embargo, meaning those public servants who retire, are not being replaced. Also, the additional obligations of public servants to fund their pensions have grown, resulting in a surge of them retiring early. Add the two together and you have a higher ratio, therefore, less points.

Second parameter, overall investment in third level institutions. Yes, you probably have guessed right, that has fallen too. And thirdly, academic recognition. The number of times an academic is cited in journals also reflects positive development. But here is where the cycle begins. The cuts in investment results in further budgetary constraints, meaning fewer resources to hire staff, increasing our ratios, and also not being able to attract leading academics to teach and research in Ireland. All of this leads to diminishing global recognition, meaning, less and less people want to study and/or work in the Irish higher level sector.

So what to do?

The government, like the last one is looking at the reintroduction of third level fees. At a time of high unemployment, take increases and record personal debt, where are people going to find the resources to fund their children’s education? Like many problems facing our government, counter-cyclical policies should have been pursued to combat these problems, with the introduction of fees implemented when people had the money to do so. But we are not in such a situation, and there is no point in pretending……Joe Higgins and Sinn Fein.

The title of this article does not refer to the multi faith schools established at present. Instead it is a reference to a policy pursued in Scandinavia, the Triple Helix Model, which brings together government, industry and third level institutions to integrate and cooperate in the funding and delivery of higher education. It is not privatisation; such a policy anyway would be flawed because businesses are also in debt. We have some kind of model in place at present in NUI Maynooth, whose Business department collaborates with Intel. Such a policy will ensure funding from three avenues, the government, industry and the institutions themselves. It also means that companies who operate in Ireland gain access to contemporary research and benefit from R&D, while students establish networks with organisations before graduation.

However, how will third level Institutions contribute to the fund? I believe fees are inevitable and in some cases necessary. The abolition of fees subsidised the rich from paying, while those who could not pay were already receiving grants. By means testing fees, the government can ensure those who can pay will, and those who can’t wont. It would also result in direct funding for such grants, meaning no across the board cuts for everyone’s maintenance cheques etc. On paper, the policy seems logical and doable, but in reality, the fundamentals remain the same, who at this present time can afford to pay, adding in the many other factors at play, will such payments go directly into our institutions or pay down our debt, can we really trust the establishment to efficiently invest our money, especially when the autonomy and independence of academia has been voiced.

My opinion, being realistic, fees have to be reinstated, but targeted specifically at those who can afford to pay. Surely that’s being fair?

-Jim O’ Brien

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