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Bleeding Education Dry

category national | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Monday December 13, 2004 13:26author by James R - WSM personal capacity Report this post to the editors

OECD Report Advocates Increased Fees, More Inequality

Something is seriously amiss in education. Inequality of access is rampant and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report and bouts of rhetoric from the government are going to do little to solve it. Beaten back two years ago, the government is once again trying to introduce fees, this time dumping the idea onto the OECD. Meanwhile, back home it uses its own shoddy track record in tackling educational inequality as a justification.

It comes as no shock that out of 26 countries the OECD surveyed Ireland is the fourth richest, yet comes second last in funding education. In 1999 3.2 per cent of students left the formal education system before even taking the Junior Cert. A 1998 literacy survey found that 1 in 10 children still leave primary school with significant reading problems caused by a lack of resources. Most research proves there is a direct correlation between the social background of a kid and their access to education at any given level.

The OECD identifies a funding crisis in education, something anyone working in education could have told you. This year saw a series of heavy cuts imposed in order to force University heads into accepting fees. Yet despite a funding crisis that led to library cuts last year, the President of UCD Hugh Brady still managed to find euro 1.6m for house renovations paid for by the college.

As in UCD, this is an issue of priorities. Nothing is making this clearer than the state's plans for third level. Reneging on its social duty to fund education, it intends to let private companies fill the gap endangering academic freedom and educational quality in the process. John Dawkins is the main driving force behind the latest OECD report, a former Australian education minister who oversaw similar changes in Australian education in the 1980's. One of the consequences of this was a 38% fall in the numbers of working class men entering third level education and a drop of 17,000 mature students enrolling annually. Fear of accumulating debt was the reason given by 61% of prospective students from low-income backgrounds for their decision not to go to third level. A fact much ignored by Irish media commentators who laud this Australian 'loan model', while buying all the bullshit about inclusion the Education minister has to sell.

Imposing more fees at the college door will only compound the problems of high rents, increased work pressures, miserable incomes and crap grants that drive most people away from third level. And God knows what it will do to tackle underfunding in primary and secondary schools. One thing is for certain, until we stand up and begin to promote a vision of education as a social right for all rather than something reserved for those that can pay and for business interests to exploit, we can expect the inequality to continue. Decisions like Brady's gaff will also continue, until those involved in education control the decisions affecting them. Opposition so far has been meek, its time to crank it up into a movement that can issue more than just press releases, reports and declarations. Instead we need actions and occupations across the campuses involving workers on shit contracts, researchers whose work has no value to business and students subsisting below even the essentials.

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author by Chris Bond - UCDSUpublication date Mon Dec 13, 2004 19:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Excellent article James, very convincing arguments, well put together and executed.

author by shoegirlpublication date Mon Dec 13, 2004 23:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Some of the points made are very valid. However a worrying trend has developed over the last 15 years wherby the cost of 3rd level has escalated to an almost unsustainable point. At the same time, the main beneficaries of free fess have been those who can afford to pay. Those teaching in 3rd level can see this very clearly.

Now the issue I notice is not just the level of 3rd level fees but their extent. At the moment the so called "registration fee" has inflated itself to the point where it actually matches the fees charged 20 years ago for diploma and certificate courses. Considering also that the number of courses has massively increased exponentially, and that the number of students is likely to decline, this means that there is limited financial support for courses, especially less popular ones.

Now there is also a train of thought that 3rd level education is an investment in your future. For some students this is true, but a large minority fail to gain financially as a result of 3rd level education. Anybody not from a priveliged background who has done a non vocational course that they subsequently are unable to make use of in a career does not lose out in a free fees situation, but would end up doubly penalised in a high fee charging situation. Seeing as the fees for non eligible students is now in the 2.5k-5k range, this would be a heavy penalty for these students in particular if fees were reimposed. That doesn't even take into accound the high fee inflation that is likely to happen over the next few years if universities were left free to raise fees.

I think there is definitely a vested interest in the universities in re-imposing fees as it would again allow them to increase fees to meet their needs. However this could be at the expense of many students. On the other hand, this begs the question why the government has continued to commit to 3rd level free fee schemes without properly funding the colleges. This doesn't even take into account why maintenance grants have fallen in real terms, thus causing more hardship for students most in need.

I have mixed feelings about the reintroduction of fees. On one hand, there is a sizable group of students from wealthy backgrounds who are well able to afford fees and do not need the subsidies given. On the other hand, there is an equally large number of students who would suffer if fees were reintroduced. I would also issue anybody who strongly believes in fees to look at what has happened in the UK, where the introduction of student loans has more or less accompanied a massive lending boom leading to a life of chronic debt for many people, many of them now numbed to the impact of debt by the fact that they started off with substantial student debts. This is a real danger in a loan scheme. And the main beneficiary are the financial services organisations who back the government schemes.

I think colleges themselves need to review the value of their courses. I spent 6 years in TCD myself, and feel now that many university and college courses serve those who work at the colleges more than those who take the courses. This "value for money" issue needs to be addressed from the governments perspective.

author by Chris Bond - UCD students unionpublication date Tue Dec 14, 2004 20:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think that the best way for the rich to pay for 3rd level education is to introduce more tax bands to get more revenue from the super rich. The problem with introducing fees based on parents income is that, it doesn`t take into account the students independence of his/her parents nor does it take into account the parents willingness to pay these fees. A system of Universal free 3rd level education funded by the exchequer to a more progressive system of taxation is best way to go about it.

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