Wednesday, 21 September 2022
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Fees
105. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the status of his engagement with third level education providers to reduce fees and make access to third level education a viable option for all. [46301/22]
On 5th of September, in advance of the Budget, I published, for the first time, a costs of education paper which will set out the possible policy options, and their indicative costs, to aid public discussion on how we should prioritise any interventions to address costs of education. The paper “Funding the Future, an annual options paper on reducing the cost of higher education can be found here: www.gov.ie/en/publication/28c9d-funding-the-future-an-annual-options-paper-on-reducing-the-cost-of-higher-education/
This paper is further step in deepening my commitment to the progressive consideration and implementation of measures to address costs as a barrier to education, within the overall context of Government policy towards costs of living and other relevant strategies including those related to access and participation in education.
I have already taken a number of significant steps in this regard, including major changes to the SUSI student support scheme and the elimination of participation fees for PLC courses from this September.
As the Deputy will be aware, fee levels vary across the institutions, disciplines and mode of delivery. Publicly funded Higher Education Institutions are autonomous bodies and are responsible for their own day-to-day management and operational affairs, including the management of academic affairs. They retain the right to determine their own policies and procedures. The level of registration fees and tuition fees to be charged are therefore a matter for the relevant institution to determine in line with its own criteria.
Under the Department’s Free Fees Initiative (FFI), the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate higher education students. All students eligible for the scheme receive state support whereby the Exchequer pays the cost of tuition fees exclusive of the student contribution. Any proposal to amend EU undergraduate tuition fees rates of eligible courses and charged to eligible students would have a budgetary impact on the exchequer and any change would require prior agreement between the sector, HEA, my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. In this regard the last agreed amendment was in 2008/2009.
It is important to highlight the very substantial financial support provided for students by Government. This is currently well in excess of half a billion euro, provided by the taxpayer towards tuition fees and the student contribution for students in higher education. This includes State funding of tuition costs amounting to €357m per annum for 146,000 eligible higher education students and €190m paid by the Exchequer under the Student Grant Scheme in respect of all or some of the €3,000 student contribution which benefits over 65,000 eligible students.
It is important to recognise that the overall funding provided by the student contribution, which is shared between the students and families and the State, is a significant element of the income of our higher education institutions. The student contribution rate therefore requires consideration not just in the context of costs of education for families but also in terms of implications for the sustainable model of funding higher education.
I have, however, been clear and consistent in stating that I believe the value of the student contribution share, as paid by students and families compared to the states contribution, is too high and that a priority for me in the forthcoming Estimates process will be to seek a reduction for student and families with an increase in the funding provided by the state, particularly in the context of the cost of living challenges being experienced by families.
My policy position in this regard was articulated in Funding our Future, the Government's policy response to the Cassells and DG Reform Reviews on the future funding of higher education. Sustainable funding for the sector and measures to address the cost of education must proceed in tandem if we are to meet our ambition of improved outcomes for learners and the system as a whole.
As I look towards the next budgetary cycle, I will be examining all the levers I have to address the cost of education in a way that has impact for students and families and that applies broadly and fairly across society. Unfortunately at this time it is not possible to pre-empt the outcome or funding for student support measures in advance of Government's Budget 2023 announcement on 27th September.