Fees and performance targets for third-level funding may be on the way

Fees and performance targets for third-level funding may be on the way. Minister for Education Richard Bruton is drawing up plans that would reward or withhold additional funding for third-level colleges depending on performance. A college’s ability to train students to meet the workplace skills gap, as well as a college’s number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be considered.

The minister is expected to reveal his plans once a much-anticipated report on the future of third-level funding is published. The report, prepared by an expert group and led by former union leader Peter Cassells, is expected to conclude that third-level funding is urgently in need of reform and that Ireland’s social and economic development is threatened by the current state of third-level education.

Student numbers are expected to grow by 30 percent over the next eleven years, and it is believed an additional €1 billion will be needed to cover the increased demand for third-level education.

Three options for third-level funding

The draft report from the education expert group has suggested there are three options for third-level funding. These are the “free fees” system; a student registration fee of €3,000; or a loan system based on income.

The loan system would allow students to study without paying any fees upfront. Fees would be paid once the graduate had earnings reaching a set threshold. The report suggests that a middle-income graduate could pay off a student loan of approximately €16,000 over 15 years at rate of around €25 a week.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have voiced concerns over a loan system for education. However, Mr Bruton has said third-level education faced significant challenges that could not be ignored.

“There are no easy solutions here but I believe that if we are to prosper and grow as a society and an economy we must build a consensus and make some big decisions in this area. ‘Do nothing’ would be to fail future generations. I look forward to discussing these issues with colleagues in the Oireachtas and other stakeholders and building a plan that can deliver on our goals in this area,” he said.

Expected performance targets for third-level funding

The Minister is expected to set out a number of performance targets for third-level colleges. These should include:

  • Providing 50,000 upskilling and reskilling third-level places over the next five years. These are to meet gaps in the economy and to support lifelong learning
  • An increase of 7 percent participation in third-level education by Ireland’s most economically disadvantaged communities
  • A 25 percent increase in the number studying on a flexible basis, including online and part-time learning options
  • A 25 percent increase in the number of students undertaking a work placement or work based projects
  • A 30 percent increase new research enrolments



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