We need to talk about Higher Education Austin Delaney and Tom Healy
Higher Education is central to Ireland’s future social and economic success. Growth in student numbers together with funding shortfalls have placed acute pressure on the system. It is clear that the current funding arrangement is not sustainable or equitable for households or Government. Further cut backs and increases in student charges/tuition fees may be expected. This paper reviews the evidence on funding across OECD countries. While a number of English-speaking countries have moved towards private funding models including income-contingent loans for students the pattern across European countries, excluding Ireland and the UK, is one of very high public expenditure levels funded by general taxation. This is particularly the case in Nordic countries. The Paper concludes that a publicly funded system is the preferred option which can safeguard the contribution of Higher Education to economic development and social mobility/cohesion and, at the same time, avoid escalating costs and long-term personal debt for graduates. However, to reach EU funding norms will take time. It is suggested that the planned Government charge of €3,000 per full-time undergraduate student in 2015 be capped and consideration be given to increasing the proportion of GDP spent on Higher Education from its 2010 level of 1.6% to 1.9% over a period of time with a rising proportion coming from public sources.