FUNDING THIRD LEVEL IRELAND

The cost of sending schools leavers to third level education is becoming an increasingly onerous burden on parents, and is all the more pressing for parents in the south east, as we remain without a university (or Technological University).
Fees have risen on average to €3,000, the increase in which has really kicked in since the economic downturn, yet it’s worth pointing out that Irish third level fees are still considerably less when compared to our UK neighbours, who are now paying between €9,000 and €10,000 annually.
We recently read a report regarding UK universities which illustrates that they have much greater cash reserves than Ireland, and as we continue to read more and more about WIT’s financial status (and that of other ITs).
There’s no escaping the fact that things are not good on the financial front for a great many of our third level bodies.
Last week, we read a report in relation to Leicester University, which generates half its funding from student fees, another quarter from the British Government with the remaining balanced accrued from a combination of fundraising and private sector sources.
All the latest indications would suggest that the Irish Government is headed in the same direction as our neighbour, by charging more fees while offering bank loans to students, to be possibly repaid over the decade or so following graduation.
The Students Union at WIT, along with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have already voiced their trenchant opposition to such a proposal, and no doubt the debate will pick up again come the start of the new academic year come the Autumn.
And what they and others have justly pointed out is quite how these loans may be repaid given our traditional emigrant status has yet to be nuanced: will such monies be ’stacked’ and await repayment when a student returns from their time away from Ireland? And will this further impact on a graduate’s credit rating in the event of their emigrating? Right now, we simply do not know.
It would appear that fees – increased fees at that – are inevitable. Parents of children in their early to mid-teens may well have to start saving now in advance of any formal adoption of an increased rate of fees/and a likely loans system.
This newspaper has long advocated for an increase in apprenticeships and given the steady increase in construction jobs, we ought to be doing more to entice more school leavers, particularly those for whom third level may not prove the best fit.
But we realise that third level and, in some cases, a fourth level education is essential if one is to fulfil one’s personal career ambitions. But we cannot forget those whose skills like outside of lecture theatres who, in most cases, seek to join the labour force several years before graduates.
That’s why we should continue to make the case for increased budgeting of WIT, which would in turn lead to increased staff numbering and an expansion of its syllabus. The range of courses provided by WCFE, which can provide an alternative gateway into third level life, should also be considered.
Our own Minister John Halligan has a role to play in that instance, particularly when it comes to increasing the level and quality of training available. We would also hope that he is beating as loud a drum as he can when it comes to the pursuit of greater funding levels for WIT.

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