Sir, – Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris says that the issue of third-level funding has been “ducked and dodged for far too long” (News, April 7th). He said that a final report is due within the next few months and that he won’t be seeking a dusty shelf for it.
The Minister is well aware that action is long overdue and he has available to him the Hunt report from January 2011 and the Cassells report from March 2016.
Dr Hunt’s National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 was presented to Mary Coughlan as the minister for education, who welcomed it as a considered and informed basis for government policy on the development of higher education in Ireland over the coming decades.
One of the two decades covered by that report is now in the rear-view mirror and over that decade we have had five further ministers for education as well as a junior minister with responsibility for higher education and now a full car in that portfolio.
One of the four key needs identified in the preface to the Hunt report was to fund higher education in a sustainable and equitable manner.
It concluded that the only realistic option to support the projected increase in participation was to require students or graduates to share in the cost of their education beyond the contributions currently made. Ms Coughlan may have offered a warm welcome for the report but she and her successors in title were not minded to do much about this recommendation.
The March 2016 Cassells report dealt only with the funding of third-level education and set out three broad strategies for consideration. In June 2018, Peter Cassells, with notable moderation, opined that “we are probably coming to the stage where decisions need to be made”.
On January 29th, 2019, Carl O’Brien reported in your pages on new research from the European Universities Association which concluded that Ireland was one of only two countries in Europe where the third-level system was in danger due to a funding shortage and rising student numbers.
At that time, Fine Gael politicians were forming an orderly queue to tell us that university registration fees would not be increased and that a student loan scheme would not be introduced.
Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the minister with responsibility for higher education, was “delighted that the announcement has finally been made that Fine Gael will not be introducing a student loan scheme”.
She went so far as to tell us that she could not have supported the introduction of such a scheme.
Our third-level education system has been starved of funds for at least 10 years. Ms Mitchell O’Connor was delighted to tell us how this problem will not be solved. Mr Harris needs to tell us how it will be – and soon. – Yours, etc,