Fine Gael and Labour completely at odds over how to fund higher education into the future - ConlonPosted on 11/01/11 by Margaret Conlon
The publication of Ireland's first ever National Strategy for Higher Education by the Government, more commonly known as the Hunt Report, has today highlighted the complete lack of education policy from the Labour Party and also the gaping differences between Fine Gael and Labour on how to fund higher education.
The Labour Party cites education as one of its core policy areas, but yet it has very little to say on it. Labour has yet to produce any substantive education policy document or offer any solutions to the funding problems facing the higher education sector, particularly in relation to increasing demand for college places. Last year, Labour’s Ruairi Quinn accused Ireland’s higher education strategy of “lying in tatters” due to rising student numbers yet he continued to rule out the reintroduction of third level fees.
The demand for college places increased by 9% last year and today’s Hunt report states that we need the capacity of our higher education system needs to double over the next twenty years. If we continue to ignore the current funding problem in the manner of the Labour party, then we will be left with a higher education system unable to cope with the demand for places and risk compromising quality standards. We need to introduce a sustainable and affordable funding model that ensures as many people as possible benefit from a world class education system.
It is difficult to see how a Labour/Fine Gael government could reach agreement on this matter. Their current policies in this area are diametrically opposed. Fine Gael has proposed the introduction of a graduate tax that would heap substantial debt on graduates the moment they enter the tax system no matter what their level of earnings. We all know it often takes years before students begin earning a decent income. Yet FG proposes that students will begin paying back up to €17,000 in debt irrespective of their level of income. This proposal goes much further than the recommendation of the Hunt Report. The Hunt Report recommendation is much more equitable and affordable and will ensure that greater numbers of students from lower socio economic backgrounds can afford to attend college.