Minister Simon Harris was asked by Clare TD Michael McNamara on an online forum whether or not he planned to reduce college fees in the wake of Covid-19.
Minister Harris did not directly respond with an explicit binary response in relation to plans of the Department of Education and Skills to formally reduce college tuition fees on a national basis. He did, however, state some of the salient financial enhancements and support schemes for students which have been implemented over the past year by his department.
Harris stated that “The State currently provides very substantial financial support to undergraduate students in higher education towards the cost of their studies.” In describing this support, he boasted the Free Fees Scheme which currently contributes “€340m” (per annum) in reducing tuition fee costs of undergraduate students in higher education. He added that the SUSI grant and maintenance fees support totals “over €180m (per annum) in supporting 44% of students nationwide.”
He also mentioned the recently announced payment of €250 for students in receipt of a SUSI grant, as well as the opportunity for non-SUSI receiving students to “reduce by €250 any outstanding student contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution.” Other supports and enhancements for post-grads, PATH access students, the Student Assistance Fund and Student Technology Funds were also addressed.
The statement comes in response to calls from many students, university unions and opposition party representatives who are requesting more substantial cuts to university fees given the reduction of physical and interactive learning on campuses. Minister Harris stated back in August that he thought the college registration fees in Ireland were “too high” and that he was “committed to working on it.”
Student Union Welfare Officer Ruairí Power told the College Tribune that although he welcomed the government’s recent efforts regarding financial support in the wake of Covid-19, the “core issue” is that Ireland has one of the highest rates of college fees across Europe, and that the pandemic has “only shed a light on this key issue.” He added that on a wider scale, students are not in need of a “Covid discount” in relation to tuition fees; but in need of “greater long-term systematic change.”
When asked about the effectiveness of SUSI, Ruairí stated that general feedback from students indicates that the system is not wholly effective nor flexible in comprehensively supporting all students. “SUSI is there because the fees are too expensive. There needs to be a long-term plan to abolish high student contribution fees and adopt a fully-funded fees approach as seen in many other EU countries; greater investment in education for greater public good.”
Eve Moore – Reporter