The Government’s move to look at reintroducing third-level fees is disturbing and I support the Labour Party's oppostion to any such backward step:
One of the Labour Party most significant achievements in Government was the abolition of third-level fees opening up third-level education to tens of thousands of students from low and middle income families. The proof of this is in the statistics where we have seen admission rates for third-level increase by 11 per cent between 1998 and 2004.
‘Most significantly, the proportion of students from the semi and unskilled backgrounds going to college increased from 23 per cent to over one third while the number of students from a skilled manual background almost doubled to 60 per cent.
‘I can also testify as an educator in one of the country’s most disadvantaged area that third-level education has been de-mystified by the abolition of fees and has encouraged more and more young people to attempt to fulfil their educational potential.
‘The term ‘better off’ families is also a very broad one and even if fees were initially only applied to what the Government terms as ‘better off families’, it would be only a matter of time before threshold levels were dropped and the vast majority of families would again be facing fees. Given that fees for many courses would now be more than €6,000 per annum, their introduction would simply make it impossible for many families to send their children to third level.
‘The logical extension of this argument is that ‘better off’ families should also have to pay for primary and secondary education instead of availing of free education. Given the government’s track record in recouping any tax from our most wealthy citizens, it would not engender confidence that a reliable system for payment of third level fees would be enforced – the grants system was notoriously corrupted by those with the means in the past.
‘We should ask ourselves whether the third-level sector is under-funded because fees were abolished, or because the abolition of fees was successful, in part, in encouraging greater numbers into third-level - numbers were not matched by appropriate levels of Government funding. At the end of the day we cannot lose sight of the fact that education is a public good in itself, from which the whole of society benefits.
‘The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs recommended that 32 per cent of our workforce should have a degree or third level qualification by 2020, compared to 20 per cent today. We certainly will not achieve this target if fees are reintroduced.