Minister urged by universities to offer “positive solutions” to funding crisis

Universities say they have taken as much action as they can to solve the crisis

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has urged the government to offer a solution to the university funding crisis, following a statement from the Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, ruling out increasing student fees.

The IUA, the representative body for Ireland’s 7 universities, have stated that McHugh’s statement, “tells us what the Minister will not do, we now need to hear what he and Fine Gael will do to solve the long-accepted funding crisis”.

The IUA has asked that the Minister clarify what he meant by the “ultimate solution coming from the autonomy of the third level colleges” and pointed out that state funding per student has fallen 43% over the past ten years.

“Universities are prepared to play their part and have already taken as much action as they can within the current restrictions,” the IUA wrote in response to McHugh’s comments on freezing student fees. “It’s time for positive solutions on funding by the Minister and the government.”

Nearly five years after Peter Cassells released his report outlining three possible options the government could follow to solve the university funding crisis, McHugh has ruled out the introduction of a student-loan system to fill the gaps in third-level college finances.

McHugh has promised to “freeze” college fees if Fine Gael win the next general election.

“In terms of increasing fees or even putting up student loans, we have to look at the overall pressures on parents and see how to make it easier rather than [adding] to the pressures they are under already,” he recently told Sunday Independent. In short, this means no family would have to spend over €3,000 per year on university expenses.

While this would help students and families struggling to finance their university education, it places enormous financial pressure on the universities themselves.

Cassells proposed either the creation of a predominantly state-funded system where student contribution is completely abolished, the continuation of the current student contribution charge with increased investment from the state, or the creation of an income-contingent loan system.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) have welcomed McHugh’s commitment to freeze student fees but that this alone is inadequate and “immediate investment in third-level education” is needed.

According to McHugh, the necessary finances shouldn’t come from the taxpayer or the government, but the universities themselves.