Have you ever wanted to own a crystal ball? Today you will get a chance to see a view that I believe is the next best thing to owning a crystal ball [and being able to read into it too of course!].
When you see any issue arise in the public, be it in politics, unions, pay rises, college fees or any other topical issue in the press apply this rule and you will probably be close to the root of the issue: ‘Nobody ever wants to pay for anything… ever’ and when they are asked to do so it will cause a large amount of strife, especially when it is something that was previously free.
That is why we are seeing a fracas forming over third level fees, but before we get the proverbial ‘knickers in a twist’ we must ask the following questions.
1. Do Universities treat staff and costs with the efficiency based attitude that the private sector does? Instant exemption is given to lecturers because great minds don’t necessarily bind well with capitalistic goals, however, for all the other staff, administration and otherwise do Universities strive for efficiency? Not from what I have been able to discern they don’t.
2. Do they (per student head) cost much more than private colleges currently do? If they do then why? What do private colleges do that makes them cheaper? When you don’t have the tax payer footing the bill perhaps it just encourages sensible spending? More importantly, do the students in private colleges do better than those in the state sponsored schools? We need only to compare graduates of Trinity medicine with those of the Royal College of Surgeons perhaps to get an indication.
3. A college education is worth something. I don’t know what price exactly an education is worth, but most people will agree that it does have a value, so why should it be free? Why not have fees that you can get back as a tax credit when you start to work? That way you can only get the money back if you work in the state and that would help avoid the ‘brain drain’ that we might start to see resurfacing after many dormant years as the economy contracts. There are surely inventive ways of making people pay for something that is of great benefit to them, that part isn’t brain surgery (no pun intended). However, we are in a situation where tax revenues are well below what was expected and what is required, spending is out of control and nothing on the public finance books seems to balance, we are even in danger of surpassing borrowing limits set by the EU and so far the state are choosing to skip paying into the pension coffers to make up the shortfall (total brushfire management).
The most basic fact however, is that education is something that in an ideal world should not have limitation in delivery as long as there are willing and able students, however, it is also something that needs to be run efficiently and in the absence of allowing the market to determine efficiencies then some fee (not prohibitive) must be in place as well as a way for people who cannot afford education to get it on a grant basis.