FF still mulling college fees

“THE possible reintroduction of college fees will still be considered by Government despite the opposition of Fianna Fáil members, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe said yesterday.

The party’s ard fheis voted at the weekend in support of a motion to keep the free fees scheme in place for third-level students. But the minister insisted he must push ahead with plans to put various options to his cabinet colleagues, and he expects to put a recommendation to them on a particular option by early April.

“It is important that we would be informed by the organisation [Fianna Fáil] what their views would be,” he told the Irish Examiner.

“At the end of the day, however, I’m charged by the cabinet to put a report before them in relation to fees and in relation to loans and any other options,” he said.

The most likely options expected to be presented by Mr O’Keeffe are either direct charging of fees — which would severely ease Government spending on third-level education — or imposing a graduate loan system where degree holders pay back their college fees when they pass a certain income threshold.

But he also made clear any recommendation he brings on possible student contribution would have to be approved by the cabinet. Members of the Green Party are believed to be strongly opposed to any return of college fees, although party leader and Environment Minister John Gormley has not ruled anything out.

The Programme for Government indicates there will not be a return of fees and Mr O’Keeffe stressed any change in that position would have to be agreed by cabinet.”

[Niall Murray, Irish Examiner, 3 March]

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