Sunday, August 17, 2008

3rd Level Fees - who should pay?

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has, predictably, stirred up a middle-class hornet’s nest with his proposal to review the possibility of a re-introduction of 3rd level college fees.

Clearly, many people will have planned their finances on the basis of not paying 3rd level college fees and the re-introduction of such fees could be a heavy financial burden for an extra 3-4 years per student.

The paradox is that many of those who object to paying 3rd level fees are the very people who have chosen to send their children to fee-paying secondary schools, rather than free schools. It is argued that the current system has merely allowed some parents to subsidise 6 years of secondary education by avoiding 3rd level fees.

This includes the use of grind schools, the ubiquitous “institutes” which enjoy a roaring trade in seeking to maximise Leaving Cert CAO points. In turn, this drives up the number of points required for entry toUniversity courses, creating a further barrier to those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the very people who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of free 3rd level education.

In Dun Laoghaire, 3 “free” schools have closed since the introduction of free 2nd level education – CBS Eblana Avenue, Dominican Convent and, most recently, Presentation College Glasthule. That’s several hundred “free-school” places lost as local parents have chosen to send their children to alternative schools – mostly fee-paying.

So here’s my proposed solution: Pupils who attend free second-level schools will receive free 3rd level education as heretofore. Those who attend fee-paying schools and/or grind schools will, subject to a means test, be liable for 3rd level fees. Such fees might be capped at the same level as the fees paid in the student’s final year at 2nd level, depending on the parents annual income.

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