The Minister for Higher Education said he wants to start slashing the 3,000 euro student contribution fee for college-goers from this October’s budget.
Simon Harris said he is “unapologetic” in the view that the registration fee needs to come down and student grants need to rise.
Mr Harris refused to disclose how much he wants to see the contribution fee reduced, saying only that there is an opportunity for the government to consider the registration fee this October.
“We can’t as a country say we want to help people upskill and reskill and then place a government levy on the cost of going to further education,” Mr Harris said.
“One of my hobby horses is the 3,000 euro student registration fee.
“I’ve been very clear that I think it is too high. I’ve also been very clear that how I addressed that is a matter for the budgetary process.
“I would say to students and to parents, most people do pay the fees and instalments.
“So there is a chance for government to consider both the registration fee and how to further improve student grants in the budget in October.”
Speaking to RTE Morning Ireland, Mr Harris refused to say how much he wants to see the fee cut.
He added: “I can understand the frustration, I can’t get into speculating on that.
“For any student, student grants go up from September so nothing to do with the budget in October, student grants go up from September.
“More families will qualify for the student grants from September because of the income threshold changes and many students will see their grants cut by 20, 25, 30% because of the changes we made around what we call the adjacency rate.
“The next step will be in October. I got agreement from government that in advance of the budget, in September, we will publish what we call the cost of education paper.
“That cost of education paper will set out all of the options as to how I can set about reducing things for students.
“I’m unapologetic in the view that the registration fee needs to come down. The student grants need to go up and I’m intensively working on those matters with government colleagues.”
Meanwhile, the minister also announced an additional 1,056 college places that will be available from September.
Mr Harris said the additional places will be in targeted areas, and will include an extra 60 places in medicine.
“These are areas where we as a country have identified the skills need, or where students have identified massive demand,” he added.
“So to give you an example, one that comes up every year is the issue of medicine. We’re announcing 60 more medicine places from September.
“There’s just over 700 medicine places so it’s about an 8% increase. Last year, we put three extra places in, this year we’re putting 60.
“We worked with the Department of Health on this, we worked with the HSE on this and we actually begin to workforce plan.
“We’re also announcing extra places for nursing, engineering, architecture, as well health disciplines, including some of the therapies, and of course the digital skills.”
He added: “I think one of the benefits of my still relatively new department is that we can begin to workforce plan particularly for the public service.
“So I’ve written to government colleagues and said will you map out for us your requirements in terms of how many social workers, how many speech and language therapists, how many physiotherapists do we need.
“Then we’ll work with our secretary to put a multi-annual plan in place.”
He also announced a further 16 apprenticeship programmes which will be developed between now and the end of the year.
“Last year, we saw the highest number of people ever registered to be an apprentice and this is part of our real push to culturally try and change the landscape here in Ireland, to realise that there’s lots of different ways of getting a qualification,” he added.
“An apprenticeship is an equally valid way. So we have 16 more apprenticeship programmes in train. There’s a whole variety of areas from farm manager to horticulture, software solutions.”
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