Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Thomas Byrne has welcomed the publication of the Cassells Group report on future funding for higher education.
The report makes several recommendations for addressing the funding crisis in the higher education system. It will now be considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills.
Deputy Byrne said, “This report makes it clear that there is a funding crisis across our third level institutions. These institutions have been struggling to do more with less in recent years, but it’s clear that the current situation is unsustainable. Demographic pressures will see the number of students in higher education grow by at least 25% by 2028.
“There has been a 22% decrease in exchequer support to third level institutions since 2010. The number of students in these institutions has increased by 25,000 in the same period of time while staff numbers dropped by 2,000. This has led to a sharp deterioration in the staff / student ratio from 1:15 to 1:19. This compares to an OECD average of 1:14.
“Capital investment has also slowed significantly. Spending on Research and Development has fallen from €938m in 2008 to €743m in 2014. A report by the Higher Education Authority also highlights that 40% of infrastructure in our higher education system is now considered below standard.
“An argument has been put forward that the funding shortfall should be overcome by raising student fees. Fianna Fáil is opposed to this approach, as is clearly outlined in our manifesto. The costs of third level are already prohibitive for students and their families. Our view is that much greater exchequer support is required.
“We will evaluate the proposals put forward by the Cassells Group, but in general the public costs of an income contingent student loan scheme are extremely uncertain. These costs can be very high which would ultimately outweigh any short term savings made by the State. We look forward to debating the proposals contained in the report at the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills.
“The institute of Fiscal Studies carried out a study of the income contingent loan scheme in the UK. It found that the medium to long term costs of the model to the state outweighed any public savings made from abolishing maintenance grants. In effect this means that while students are paying much higher fees under the new loan system, the government is also worse off than under the previous system of direct exchequer support.”