Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Funding
178. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he has read the USI position paper on the funding of higher education regarding the effects a loan scheme would have on students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2981/17]
I am aware of the USI pre-budget submission and its recommendations for increased funding to the sector. The Report of the Expert Group on the Future Funding for Higher Education, which was established by previous Minister O'Sullivan, sets out a number of funding options for the sector with income contingent loans being just one of those options. Other options include a predominantly State-funded system or a State-funded system supplemented with continuing student fees.
As the Deputy will be aware the Report is currently with the Joint Oireachtas Committee for consideration where each of the funding models will be examined and the process will include input from all stakeholders. I understand the Union of Students in Ireland are one of the groups who have made a submission.
It will be important to obtain political and societal consensus on achieving a sustainable funding model for the higher education sector in the future and my Department and I continue to work with the Committee as it undertakes this important job. However, it is important to recognise, as the Cassells Report has done, that doing nothing is not an option and that other measures to improve equality of access would also be necessary.
Funding overall for the higher education sector is a key concern for me, particularly in light of the additional pressure that will fall on the system over the next decade or so. That is why I am pleased, that I have for the first time in nine years secured additional funding for the sector with €36.5m additional being made available this year and €160m additional overall over the next three years. This includes an increase in the funding available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and other under-represented groups to assist them in overcoming financial barriers to accessing and completing higher education.
In addition, in Budget 2017 the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and I, announced a policy review with the aim of designing and implementing a sustainable and predictable multi-annual funding model for higher and further education and training involving increased Employer and Exchequer contributions from 2018. The review will be undertaken as part of the overall response to meeting the anticipated skills needs in the economy over the coming years, in line with the policy framework set out in the National Skills Strategy.
It will include an analysis of the business case for enhanced investment in the higher and further education and training sectors and of the most effective funding mechanisms to deliver outcomes in respect of our ambitions in this area. In this context it will identify key elements of the new funding model and of the expected impacts including those on employers. The review will include consultation with stakeholders. It is expected that the policy review will be published by the end of April 2017, and will complement the ongoing work by the Oireachtas Committee in relation to the Cassells report.