The difference between totally free college education and a student loan scheme could be just €500 million stated out-going USI President Kevin Donohue.
The Cassells report into the future government funding options for colleges and universities is now 8-months late. The Tribune revealed last year the three various options the report will outline, yet the cost of each option has yet to be discovered. But USI President Kevin Donohue suggested that it may only cost the government an extra €500 million to provide free college tuition over the cost of a loan scheme that charges students between €3,000 – €5,000 a year.
Speaking on the costings of the Cassells options Donohue said “the difference in the options of the report between a student loan scheme and free higher education is, I think, a €500 million cost to the state. If €500 million is impossible that we have to start asking what do we want to do as a country”.
The out-going USI President said he held a meeting with the Education Minister Richard Bruton on the Cassells report two weeks ago where he said they had a “good discussion” over the future challenges facing higher education.
Donohue said he was wary of political elements who would use the report as a means to introduce a loan scheme by sleight of hand through focusing on that option alone. Talking about the USI’s experience in the consultation of the report he said it was at times “very much a how do we introduce loans report, and not how to fund higher education. Anyone who brought up an option that wasn’t a loan scheme wasn’t taken seriously.” It is essential that the report starts an open debate around the three options, all of which are credible avenues for funding the third level sector said Donohue.
Pressure is growing on Education Minister Richard Bruton to release the Cassells report, with politicians and key unions criticising the Minister’s “deferment” of the issue. The Department of Education has said that the report would come out “shortly.”
However, a source in the Department confirmed there was “no set date” for its release, and that the report may not necessarily be published before the Dail breaks for the summer this July.
Mike Jennings of the Irish Federation of University Teachers said the minister’s lack of movement on the report was frustrating. “Anything that looks controversial or tricky is shied away from and kicked into the future” and the current government would be better referred to as a system of “deferment” said Jennings.
Senator Lynn Ruane, who was recently elected to Trinity’s university panel, also said that the 8-month delay on the report’s release was unfair to students. “Students are being left in the dark about the future of the third level sector and their financial commitments for the coming year” Ruane stated.
“The higher education sector is at crisis point. Students are being charged a steadily increasing fee to attend college. We are seeing poorer graduate outcomes. It is now more crucial than ever that we see the publication of the Cassells report” said Ruane.
Jack Power, Editor