Belfast Telegraph

Education Minister denies ‘electioneering’ over student fees and accommodation

Joe McHugh has previously promised there will be no increase to the 3,000 euro student registration fee.

Education Minister Joe McHugh (Niall Carson/PA)
Education Minister Joe McHugh (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The education minister has denied he is electioneering over promises to freeze student fees.

Joe McHugh has previously promised there will be no increase to the 3,000 euro student registration fee, and he says he does not see any price hike if Fine Gael remain in government – a statement that has been criticised as “electioneering” as the nation prepares for an upcoming general election in 2019 or 2020.

On Tuesday, Mr McHugh remained steadfast on his promise, and denied accusations of pre-election spin.

“No, I was asked a question about if we had any plans to increase the 3,000 euro registration fee, we’ve no plans to do that, so in effect, we’re going to be going into an election this year or next year, I certainly won’t have any plans to be part of a party that is going to increase those fees,” he said.

“Yes, there are challenges within the university sector but if you look at the increase of funding since 2015, we’ve doubled capital spend and also our current spending on the third level sector has increased 25% since 2015, so the hard choices will be for the next government on how much extra money we put in.”

Without any increase in fees for Irish students, some within the university sector say the institutions will be forced to make “hard choices” in order to make up funding, through other fees, accommodation and international student places, for which fees are considerably higher.

Irish universities are currently looking for an extra 117m euro from the state to pay for their basic operations next year.

“Third level institutions have that autonomy, but there is a criteria emerging now around university status for the IoTs, and what I’m picking up is, a lot of parents are making decisions around cost,” Mr McHugh said.

“People are spending 2-3 years in a local third level college and using that as a stepping stone, so there’s going to be widespread competition, there won’t just be the traditional route that you had to go to a city to get what you want.”

He added he was not concerned that university places for Irish students may be reduced to make way for international students to make up for any funding shortfall.

He said: “I don’t think that’s a road they’ll want to go down, we have a responsibility to ensure that we provide access for our graduates.

“There is an onus on us to look after students from our own country.”

Mr McHugh refused to be drawn on the fact that he has not yet discussed the promise of the fee freeze with Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure Pascal Donohoe.

“Myself and Pascal talk quite frequently, maybe not as frequently in the summer months,” Mr McHugh said.

“We’ve a close working relationship, we’ll continue to communicate on that front, this is about ensuring equality of access particularly for people who live in rural areas.”

Mr McHugh was speaking in Croke Park at the National Parents Council Post Primary Helpline on Tuesday as more than 58,000 students received Leaving Cert exam results across the country.

The 2019 results are in line with previous years, however five students achieved results of eight H1s while 235 students achieved six or more.

A total of 7,639 received at least one H1 in the results.

The six most popular Higher Level subjects taken by students were English, Biology, Irish, Geography, Maths and French.

Mr McHugh, who admits he was disappointed with his own results 30 years ago, said that students should not be disheartened, as more avenues than ever are open to those leaving school.

“I beat myself up for a number of weeks, and maybe months, but in hindsight it couldn’t have worked out better, and my message would be to people who feel today their expectations were not met, there’s so many options,” Mr McHugh added.

“As my granny always said, ‘What’s for you won’t pass you’.”

PA

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