Where do we go from here?

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.

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7 Responses to “Where do we go from here?”

  1. Brian Hanley Says:

    On a related note, the use of Gardai in riot gear, with dogs and horses, to disperse a student protest, is a new departure in terms of Irish demonstrations. During the 1980s there were numerous USI occupations of government buildings, that often saw much more scuffles/clashes than yesterday. Yet the Gardai rarely went beyond drawing batons if they even did that (protests related to the North being a different matter of course). The protesters yesterday did nothing that Joe Duffy et al did not do in the early 1980s and as youtube footage is now showing the Gardai were prepared to use their batons fairly freely on people sitting on the ground. It will be interesting to see if this marks a change in policy towards protest more generally, bringing us into line with practice in the rest of Europe.

  2. Tina Says:

    As a product of the American university system, where fees are steep even at State schools (where you pay less if you’re a resident of the state), I have mixed views on this. Whereas I’m no fan of the length of time in which it will take me to pay off the various loans I’ve taken to pay for my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, I also recognise the motivation provided by having to work and pay for that which you receive. Entitlement is a word that comes up time and again in discussions of the Celtic Tiger, so it seems a bit trite to bring it up here, but that feeling of deserving without needing to pay for (either financially or otherwise) surely is a detriment when it comes to the quality of education students receive today. When university education is approached principally with a sense of entitlement (which, of course, is not by any means the universal attitude but certainly one which might be said to characterise many within the current generation of university students), it can produce a generalised sense of apathy and diffidence which works counter to the sharing of knowledge that’s supposed to take place in the university setting. Re-introducing fees, I think, would go some way to battling that apathy, but I think there needs to be much more thought on how the fees system will work to ensure that large sections of Irish society aren’t simply left behind and that the fees are actually used in a manner that will best benefit the students with direct and tangible effects on their university experience.

  3. Brian Hanley Says:

    Well I think the idea would be that the ex-student, will through working in Ireland and paying tax, contribute to the cost of their education. The numbers attending university are far greater than in the recent past, and though there remain major problems of access based around class, large numbers of people know, that if they get the results, they can go to college. As I teach many of them I am aware that they can be less than animated: many of them however are certainly the first from their broader families to go to third level. I am glad that they are getting the opportunity and think higher education IS actually a right, that can be funded through progressive taxation.
    Or we can beg rich egomaniacs to give us money so we can name a library after them.

  4. puesoccurrences Says:

    I would agree Brian but the department of education ruled out ex-students paying their fees through taxation last week.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1102/1224282488236.html

  5. puesoccurrences Says:

    I would agree Brian but the department of education ruled out ex-students paying their fees through taxation last week.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/1102/1224282488236.html

    Lisa

  6. Ida Says:

    Before any move is made to increase fees I would like to see the third-level sector produce some statistics on the impact the recession is having on their numbers, and on the potential impact increased fees would have.

    My daughter is in NUIG. Last year, the (private) college residence she lives in had a long waiting list. This year, there was no waiting list, and there are empty rooms. Paying for accommodation has obviously already become an unbearable expense.

  7. Brian Hanley Says:

    Plenty of anecdotal evidence of students not being able to pay registration fees because one or both parents are out of work.

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