Dáil debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Education (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)


6:00 pm

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick West, Fine Gael)

While I presume his heart was in the right place on the day in question, whatever about the days thereafter - he often used to change his mind - anti-social behaviour orders are reasonable in the case of certain individuals. However, the vast majority of young people engaged in this form of behaviour have special needs difficulties.

In recent years, schools have been developing inputs to assist young people with special needs at a crucial time in their education. The withdrawal and reduction of these supports will have serious consequences for the individuals in question in terms of life opportunities and for society because in some cases the anti-social behaviour will develop into criminal activity. Early intervention for children with special needs delivers a long-term return for the State, for example, in the penal area.

As the Minister of State will be aware, the debate about increasing what the Government describes as registration fees for third level education - they are registration fees in name only - has given rise to serious concerns. When third level fees were abolished in 1996 a student service charge of £150, equivalent to €190, was introduced. Over the years, this charge has had many different names but is colloquially referred to as the registration fee. The student service charge is, in the words of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Mary Coughlan, designed to defray the costs of examinations, registration and student services. Clearly, this is not the case given that a significant proportion of the charge is devoted to purposes other than those outlined by the Minister.

In 2009-10, when the student service charge was increased by €600 from €900 to €1,500, the range of services it could be used to fund was expanded to include core academic functions such as library and information technology services. The charge has been increased every year since its introduction, apart from 2003-04 and 2010-11. However, it must be noted that the absence of an increase followed increases of 94% - from €396 to €670 - in 2002-03 and 69% - from €900 to €1,500 - in 2009-10.

Since its introduction the student service charge has increased 13 times, amounting to a 689% increase in 15 years. To compound matters there is no definition of what precisely a student service is and what services can be funded from the charge. The Comptroller and Auditor General, in his special report on resource management and performance in the university sector, found that the full economic costs of the services to which the service charges are linked cannot be readily identified from the financial statements of third level institutions in the current format.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Science on 28 January 2010, it emerged that the accounts of Trinity College Dublin revealed that money from the student service charge was being used to fund the bio-resource unit, a centre for the preparation of animals for scientific testing and experimentation. During the same meeting, Mr. Tom Boland, chief executive officer of the Higher Education Authority, admitted that institutions were free to fund a wide range of activities from revenue generated by the student service charge. He stated: "There is no definition in the sense of what a student service is." It would be much more honest to change the name of the student service charge to "student fees" because that is precisely what they are. We should call a spade a spade. While the original purpose of the charge was to provide services for students, the charge has evolved into student fees.


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