Thomas Pringle TD

Dáil Q: Will the Government introduce third-level loans to fund the sector in the future?

For Written Answer on : 29/01/2019
Question Number(s): 230 Question Reference(s): 4189/19
Department: Education and Skills
Asked by: Thomas Pringle T.D.


To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his position in relation to the future funding of third-level education; if student loans will be ruled out as a means of raising funding for the sector; the details of the recent application to the European Commission to carry out a detailed economic analysis of third-level education funding here; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


In order to build a political consensus regarding a future approach to funding the higher education sector, the then Minister for Education and Skills referred the expert group report on future funding of higher education to the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills for their consideration. The Committee requested that my Department undertake an economic examination of the three policy options proposed by the expert group to assist the Committee in forming its view of the most appropriate option.


In Q4 2018, my Department applied to the European Commission Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) which provides tailor-made support to all EU countries for their institutional, administrative and growth-enhancing reforms to carry out the analysis of the three policy options identified by the Expert Group.  Formal decision-making by the European Commission on projects that have been successful in obtaining support is expected by end-February 2019.


Having this evaluation undertaken through the Commission’s Structural Reform Support Programme will provide the type of international expertise and analysis that would be very beneficial to a major evaluation of this nature.


If the proposal is approved by the European Commission the detailed programme of work for a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options identified by the Expert Group would be expected to be completed in the course of 2019.  The expected timeframe for undertaking the economic evaluation and the Government’s concerns regarding Irish students incurring on graduation high levels of debt for tuition fees corresponding to those currently experienced by students in the UK and the US, therefore, rule out the introduction of a student loan system during the lifetime of this Government.


My Department is working to continue re-investment in Higher Education, building on the progress made in Budgets 2017 & 2018. Overall higher education spending has increased by 17% compared to 2016 to a projected €1.76 billion in 2019. This represents an increase to the sector of €257m during the period.


Budget 2019 continued the Government’s prioritisation of reinvestment in higher education. Through the budget, I secured €57million in additional current funding for the higher education sector. This is in addition to separate funding that has been provided for pay deals and pensions, amounting to an additional €41million in 2019.


Budget 2019 also announced a new Human Capital Initiative that will involve investment of €300 million in higher education over the 5 year period from 2020 to 2024, with €60m being made available in each of those years.

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