By Lisa Marie Griffith
It seems increasingly likely that from September Undergraduate Students will have to pay up to €3,000 in fees. The Irish Times reported on Monday that this would consist of the €1,500 registration fee which they currently pay and up to a further €1,500 on a ‘new student contribution’. While on Monday it looked like the suggestion of an increase in the registration fees would at least cause ‘tension in the government’, Tuesday brought news that the Greens have given in once more and have supported the increase of €1,000 in registration fees to bring them up to €2,500. Savings from the educational sector through an increase in registration fees are expected to yield €80 million for the Irish Revenue. Today students take to the streets to object against this registration fee increase but it seems unlikely that the government will back down.
How exactly is it proposed that students will pay these fees? Well presumably the government assumes that middle class parents across the country will fork out the cash for their children but what about everyone else? Yesterday the Department of Education ruled out the possibility of putting in place an Australian-type loan scheme to cover the increased amount which students are being asked to pay. This will send those struggling to pay the fees to part-time work (if they can get it) and to banks for loans.
As someone who benefitted during the Celtic Tiger and did not have to pay fees this is a horrifying prospect. Cutbacks across the board will make it even more difficult for school goers to make it to college, or at least without building up huge personal debt. I had several friends who went to college in the UK and facilitated this through bank loans which were in ready supply in Britain. Experiencing this culture of borrowing at a personal level to both pay for college fees and other expenses has meant that once they left college at 21 or 22 they were saddled with huge debts and had a much more relaxed view to just taking out a loan and building their debt further.
But without fees where can Irish Universities go? In September the Irish Times published the findings of 91 Mitchell Scholars who had undertaken a postgraduate degree of varying types in Ireland. The Mitchell programme provides a scholarship for top ranking US students to come and study in Ireland. It is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary this year and the programme have used this as an opportunity to review the experience of participants.
Their findings are not perhaps surprising to those familiar with Irish universities but they are worth a review because they provide an international review of Irish universities and highlight the experience of foreign students in our universities. One of the major complaints which was voiced by a number of these Mitchell scholars is that post-graduate programmes repeat material which students have engaged with at under graduate level and so they are not challenging enough and often cover material that students are already familar with from their undergraduate.
Funding is another problem which emerges from the Mitchell survey. Libraries are not open long enough each day and normally close Sundays. Everyone in the university sector realises though that libraries are only the tip of the iceberg and there is a pressing need to keep up with technological innovations if they want to compete internationally.
Trina Vargo, founder and president of the US-Ireland Alliance and the Mitchell Scholarship programme has summed up the problem of finance: “The universities need money. I strongly believe that, in order for Irish universities to be truly world class, they need funds that the state can’t provide, and that means fees.”
Without some real innovation and adequate finance over the next decade the University sector will loose any ground it gained during the Celtic Tiger. The hike in registration fees will go to reducing the cost of running universities for government and not as extra revenue. In order to maintain standards in the University sector we need to reintroduce real fess on top of this registration fee. One commentator that I heard Monday morning on Newstalk stated that he believed this would leave the average student with a bill of €10,000 per annum. But this leads to a catch 22? Do we dump more of a bill on future generations of students who will have to suffer the higher taxation and job cuts which are promised for the next few years or do we let our universities waste away?
It’s been a while since we ran a poll but we have decided to solicit a response from readers regarding the reintroduction of fees in future. You can find our poll here.