Thursday, 4 November 2010

Third-level fees protest: perhaps it's time to pay up?

Yesterday saw an estimated 40,000 people take to the streets protest against Government plans to increase registration fees for university students.  Some protesters staged a sit-in at the Department of Finance offices and others attempted a sit-down protest outside the Dail (the Irish parliament).

In the latter two instances there were scuffles with heavy-handed police, which resulted in several protesters being injured, including one who had his “head stamped on” according to a Socialist Workers Party spokesperson. Two protesters were charged; one with criminal damage and another with breach of the peace.  No gardai were charged, to the best of my knowledge.

All that aside, however, this is a difficult one for me.   While it is good to see some form of anger and protest on Irish streets,  it is perhaps predictable that such a protest should come from one of the more privileged sections of Irish society.

When third-level fees were abolished back in 1996, it was trumpeted as a move that would open up third-level education to the disadvantaged.   It did no such thing.   Instead it provided a subsidy for middle-class parents to send their kids to college for free… even when they had paid privately for their second-level education.  The abolition was universal and made no distinction with regard to socio-economic background or income.

A report by Dr Kevin Denny, in May of this year, found that (summary by Karlin Lillington, Irish Times, July 30th):    “..while all taxpayers, including those on lower income, end up paying for free education for third-level students, it is the children of the better off who literally cash in, getting their ticket to a better future and a higher income for free. Meanwhile, disadvantaged students still enter third level education at the same dismally low levels."

The crux of the issue being, of course, that “students from lower-income backgrounds who qualified for university would have been eligible for a fees grant and in some cases, a maintenance grant”.

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, president of Dublin City University for ten years up until last July, also dismissed the supposed universal benefit of “free” third-level education in an Irish Times article (May 18th 2010) entitled “The education system fails those we most need to help.”

Prondzynski pointed out that   between 1998 and 2004 participation levels of those from a ‘non-manual background’ (the lowest social-economic grouping) actually fell by three percentage points.”      He put the third-level participation level in areas close to DCU, such as Finglas and Ballymun, at “somewhere between 5 and 7 per cent”, with a continued decline among those from “non-manual, skilled manual and semi-skilled backgrounds”.

To go back to Denny’s report, its conclusion was that access to third-level education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds must be addressed at secondary level (and I should imagine, well before that, at primary), one of the points being:    “A clear policy implication of this paper is that attempts to tackle inequalities in university access that do not address these performance differences at the Leaving Certificate won’t solve the problem.”

In short, the abolition of fees has done little to address educational disadvanage.  Also, “free” third-level education is nothing of the sort -  someone has to pay for it.

Given the coming cuts will, no doubt, be felt most keenly by the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, perhaps it is not unreasonable to ask the better-off to put their hands in their pockets and pay for their offsprings' education?

Full Denny report here

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Anonymous said...

Laim Smullen,

here is more but slighty conflicting information
Who Went to College in 2004? A National Survey of New Entrants to Higher Education

The Gombeen Man said...

Thanks for that, L.

Dakota said...

The Irish education "system," is rotten. It was never fair. Full stop. The better off have ALL the advantages when it comes to educating children in Ireland. Socio-economic background been the most glaringly obvious. This fundamental aspect determines how the child will progress in the Irish state. This foolishness of a percieved fair Irish educational system is exactly that perceived. Do you want to pay for some millionaire's son or daughter to get their kicks in uni?????? I certainly don't. Spoiled celtic cubs.

Anonymous said...

I just dont understand what is wrong with just copying the UK system , where students take out their own loans to cover fees ,living etc and pay it back when they start earning a certain amount after graduating ? These student loans are very easy on interest rates and lenient on the payback . You have a lot less messing around/drinking/skipping lectures in college in the uk when its their own money on the line and failure = massive debt .Why cant we have this system here ?Oh yeah , because our banks are slimey shysters who only lend to dick swinging property cowboys .

Dr Pony said...

I grew up in a "professional" family and was shocked to hear my mother once declare that Uni places should be reserved in Medicine for the sons and daughters of doctors. Born to it - don't you know!!! A lovely woman otherwise but what a window on Ireland. I'm absolutely with you 100% on this topic and I beleive that grants for those capable and unable to pay are the way to go. let the spoilt brats pay if they make it past the selection exams.

Dakota said...

Anon@20:53 (and PB) Yeah IMO you are correct on you're first assertion. The UK system of student loans is probably the best way to go. If not, then those who deserve should get a Government loan at favourable rates. As for you're second assertion, Anon, LOL, only if it's a few billion and you're one of the choosen few. Billions are the new millions after all. What a fantastic country.

Anonymous said...

Anon@20:53 & @Dakota

Just to clarify, fees are not UK wide, it is free in Scotland.

What you are suggesting takes us in the wrong direction. If you want a fair and equal society then that basic model you should go for is 'everyone pays in and everyone gets something out'

Short term arguments that the well off should pay for everything only leads them to adopt the Ronald Regan mantra of 'Why should the rich pay into social programmes when we get nothing out?'

Zero fees may not have increased access for less well off but fees are still a barrier. UK universities are quickly becoming poor-kid free zones.


The Gombeen Man said...

I take your point re the Reagan "philosophy" Desmond / Max.

Thing is, what if everyone doesn't get something out? The rich in ireland have been notorious tax evaders, thanks to a whole gamut of obliging Government schemes which contributed towards this country's current economic plight. Yet someone driving a van has to contribute towards their kids' third-level education - and how many van drivers' sons and daughters are there at uni in Ireland? Proportionately very few, if the above quoted academics are correct.

Another aspect is that universities here have been strapped for funding to the tune of 40% since fees were dropped (according the the Karlin Lillington piece quoted above).

We need to open up third-level education to people from disadvantaged backgrounds alright - but it has to be done in a targeted manner with regard to third-level grants, and education-wise things have to be put right at primary/secondary level.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that is cutting the disadvantaged out of third level is the gap between paying registration fees in September and getting the grant cheque in... (some time after Nov 10th).

If you don't have the means to have 1500+, soon to be 3000+ per sprog spare for 3 months they don't get to go to college. Inefficient bureaucracy FTW.

The Gombeen Man said...

Innefficient bureaucracy or deliberate.

Anonymous said...

Laim Smullen

The problem is the government this is rising the
registration fees (or previously reintroducing
tuition fees) and while at the same time assit strapping all grant aid programmmes.All this
is happing despite the 30% the Irish studnet
body is reciving some from of a Grant .

Mature students unfairly hit by changes to grant scheme

Back to Education Allowance Storm Brewing (or not?)

Also as regards the university funding issue since 1968 the government paid 66% of each student tuition fee to ensure greater mass perception. Mature presently pay fees and postgrads.

IT previously RTCs were always free because they were funded with european structrual aid money,
but only Diploma courses offered degrees were finished in university courses. That is why
ITs are as far as Know luke warn on the fees issues.

some gender and class data in third level.