The National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030 also known as the Hunt Report, was published last week. The report deems it vital that the Government ensures the higher education system is sustainable before introducing third-level fees.
The Report states that an increase in exchequer funding will not raise sufficient capital to meet the level of higher education costs. Additional funding of up to €500 million a year may be required in order to meet increased demand and economic objectives.
The report describes as “essential” the introduction of a direct contribution from students, the “key-stakeholders in the higher education system”.
With many colleges facing a 30 per cent increase in student numbers, the report recommends that growth in student numbers should be “contingent on the introduction of new revenue streams”.
This direct contribution would be based on a combination of fees and an income contingent loan scheme. The scheme has been compared the “study now, pay later” scheme which was proposed two years ago by former Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe. These loans could assist students in covering the cost of annual fees of at least €5,000 and would be repayable.
Numerous student representatives have expressed their concern at the prospect of a graduate tax system. UCDSU President Paul Lynam said: “It is a short-sighted, poor idea. We see how much of a disaster it is in New Zealand. One in four graduates there is working in Australia now, which is a good comparison for us because we have a bigger economy [Britain] beside us too.”
The Hunt Report made further recommendations including ensuring that first-year students are adequately prepared for the experience of learning at higher level and the improvement of teaching and learning practices. The Irish Timesdescribed is as “the first of its kind to address the difficulties first-year undergraduates face in college after a Leaving Cert dominated by rote learning”. The importance of investment in development and research was also emphasised.
The ironically coincidental announcement that four Dublin-based institutions intend to form a new university will be unaffected by the report’s claim that there will be no more traditional universities in the state in the near future, as they propose a new technological university be formed by their merging.
The report has been criticised by a number of educational bodies, including the Irish Federation of University Teachers who told The Irish Times that the report was “unlikely to have much influence on the future development of higher education in Ireland”.