The government needs to raise its hand and admit who should pay for higher education
Who will pay for the increased funding for higher education? The truth that dare not speak its name among all political parties is that the cohort of society least likely to go to college will likely bear the cost for those most likely to attend.
On Wednesday, the Minister of Higher Educationpresented his plan Simon Harris. This will involve an immediate injection of €307m and the promise of a gradual reduction in the annual student registration fee, which is currently €3,000.
Who could be against that? The third level sector is chronically underfunded and has been for decades. The Cassells report published in 2016 indicated that an additional €600 million would now be needed per year, to reach an additional €1 billion by the end of the decade.
Student associations and some politicians have adamantly opposed tuition fees, saying it is a barrier to accessing education. Now Mr Harris is doing what he can for “working families”, as he described them in Morning Ireland on Wednesday. He goes up to the rescue.
This money is intended to come from general taxation, but there is no indication of an increase in general taxation to obtain these funds. In a democracy that is mature and considers its duties and obligations from the perspective of fairness and reasonable management, there would be an increase in taxation for this purpose and it would be so identified. But the public does not like new taxes, and the body politic is in no mood to persuade that new or increased taxes are necessary for a specific purpose. In any case, associating an increase in taxation with higher education could raise questions about the categories of society that benefit the most from such a policy.
Instead, the money will have to come from other areas currently funded by general taxation. So what will be missing? Will these be some of the programs designed to alleviate disadvantage in the kinds of areas where very few make it to the third level? Or perhaps it will be to weed out scraps of other spending where they might go unnoticed in the Oireachtas or the media, but will be deeply felt far from the centers of power. Certainly, the money will not be taken from an area with sufficient resources or capable of defending its interests loud and clear.
What about lower registration fees? What will this money be used for? About half of the country’s students are already exempt from these fees, so it will not affect their access to education. There is a relatively small cohort whose income is just above the exemption threshold for whom this will undoubtedly benefit educational prospects. But for many who are now paying the fee, the cut will mean just a few extra bobs to spend elsewhere in their national budget.
For some who live beyond the main population centers, this could mean help finding accommodation in a crazy market. For others, the extra money can be used for another annual leave. Again, they might do the math and estimate that they can now afford to send their children to private tertiary schools, thus giving a greater advantage to their prospects of a good tertiary education. Nothing wrong with any of this, except who exactly foots the bill as the state plays an increasing role in funding a sector that is disproportionately represented by the better-off?
It is worth reviewing how exactly the third level sector arrived at this station. Prior to 1996, fees back then were around £2-3000 a year, which is well over €6000 in today’s money. The system was flawed and had a tax-friendly element that was abused. Instead of reform, the government, in which Labor held the education portfolio, opted to abolish school fees. The principle was to widen access to disadvantaged groups in terms of education. Many observers believed the real political rationale was to give money back to voters so they could remember Labor on Election Day.
If this decision was a genuine attempt to address educational disadvantage, it was a dismal failure. This was best illustrated in a study by Kevin Denny of UCD’s School of Economics in 2010. He examined whether the move had increased the number of students from the lower parts of the socio-economic gradient (SES).
He found that “the abolition of tuition fees did not change the effect of SES on university entry, which was effectively zero before and after the reform once performance was controlled for. to exams. The only obvious effect of the policy was to provide a windfall gain to middle-class parents who no longer had to pay school fees”.
Will the proposed reduction in registration fees this time be different? The element of society best represented in the third degree is also the one that votes the most. This reality carries far more weight with politicians than any duty to level the playing field. company and it has absolutely nothing to do with fees.
The abolition of royalties in 1996 also led to an overwhelming reliance on general state funding to finance the sector. With this, it was inevitable that the level of funding would run out in the long run. During the austerity years after 2008, funding per student fell by up to 40%. Now Mr. Harris comes to the rescue. There will be more money for colleges and there will be less expense for families who are in the relatively privileged position of having their offspring educated in the third degree. And who’s going to pay for it? Well, who cares? seems to be the general attitude.
There is reason to argue in favor of a third level sector entirely financed by the public treasury. Such a system should only be considered after every real effort has been made to ensure that the student population is fully representative of society, including the cohort that experiences educational disadvantages. We are still far from it, as the results show.
Instead, those growing up in disadvantaged areas don’t have the opportunities that are available to the rest of us. Their personal potential is not fully realized and failure to do so makes them a great untapped resource for the country.
So without proper efforts to achieve true equality in education, shifting the bulk of third-tier funding from families to the state is just another political stunt, driven by votes rather than an attempt at equality.