The College Tribune can reveal that the Cassells Report on Higher Education will publish a list of three options for the future funding of Ireland’s higher education system. The Report was constituted to examine and outline the best viable options to meet the funding and quality requirements of Ireland’s higher education sector, given expected future pressures on an already heavily taxed system.
Speaking to The College Tribune, one source close to the Cassells group stated that this list will not be graded and that no one recommendation will be suggested or ranked above the others. They said, “the terms of reference on the group [from the outset] was to outline a series of options, and not to make a recommendation.”
The three options to be recommended by the group are as follows:
Option 1: Fully Publicly Funded Higher Education
The first option will be a fully publicly funded higher education system. This would entail abolishing student’s current commitment to paying the €3,000 registration fee. It would however mean a large increase in funding required from the state coffers, and a marked increase in the level of contribution made by employers.
Option 2: Current Registration Fee and an Increase in State Investment
The second option outlines maintaining the current registration fee, but complimenting the shortfall in funding with an increase in investment by the state. The level of public investment needed would be less in Option 2 than the fully state-funded Option 1. However, it was recognised that investment would be required to some extent to meet increased demand and maintain quality of services in the higher education system. The report found that it would not be equitable to let students and parents of students alone shoulder the funding shortfall due to increased demographic demand.
Option 3: Deferred Payment Loan Scheme
The third option will outline a student loan scheme. The University Times reported in December this option would entail a rise in the student registration fee to €4,000. But the College Tribune can report the Cassells Group will instead outline a series of fee levels, ranging from €2,000 to €4,000 which would be introduced in concert with student loans. The precise cost of these deferred fees would be relative to the levels capital invested in the higher education system by the state and employers and would also be coupled with the introduction a loan payment scheme.
Another source stated that the Cassells group has examined means by which problems associated with loan schemes in other countries can be addressed and that its findings are critical implementing the Australian fee model to Ireland’s case. This is primarily as Ireland’s tradition of emigration is very different to the inward migration culture within Australian society.
Concerns exist particularly around the collection or loan payments from those who emigrate following graduation. Arising from these this, it is understood that the final report will advise strongly against the introduction of a deferred payment scheme such as that which is in place in the UK and US and has enabled the consistent rise in fees charged over time.
One general conclusion the group has reached outside its recommendations is that the level of contribution to third-level funding by businesses and employers should be increased.
Currently, the contributions made by employers in Ireland to its higher education system rank among the lowest in the OECD. The report therefore is expected to include, across its three recommendations, that investment by business and industry as a key stakeholder and beneficiary of the higher education system be increased.
The publication of the Cassells Report is expected “shortly” according to one source, however at the time of going to print no specific timeframe was made clear.
- Jack Power, Politics & Innovation Editor