Economists criticise free tuition

February 26, 1999


The Irish government has come under pressure to re-introduce university tuition fees three years after their abolition.

According to a team of economists, who were asked to establish priorities for government spending for the next six years, the abolition of fees was an undesirable development.

The economists said that the gains from successfully pursuing higher education accrued mainly to the individual.

"It is appropriate that those who benefit should pay some of the cost through fees while pursuing their courses or, alternately, later by means of loans," the report said.

The report also recommended the winding down of the advanced technical skills programme under which some post-graduates get free tuition, again on the basis that the benefits accrue to those directly funded.

The leaked report is being considered by government departments but already the main opposition party, Fine Gael, has ruled out the re-introduction of tuition fees.

Michael Martin, the minister for education and science, has not responded officially but he is unlikely to re-introduce fees in the near future because of the inevitable political outcry it would cause against Ireland's minority government. However, some unpalatable decisions will have to be taken within the next year or two by whatever government is in power.

The economists also recommended a significant rationalisation of courses in higher education. In a reference to campaigns to encourage more students to take courses such as computing, it questioned the need to spend large sums of money redirecting students from one area of study to another.

The report said that the shortage of labour in the economy was not confined to specific areas. With a general shortage of skilled labour, the answer lay partly in the better management of the economy through fiscal policy.

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