Readers may or may not be aware of this report to the Irish Minister for Education and Science: "Policy Options for New Student Contributions in Higher Education". The report dates from July 2009 but I have just found it on the website of the recently re-branded Department of Education and Skills. It is not clear whether this report is connected to the National Strategy for Higher Education in Ireland, recently discussed by Kevin on this blog.
In any event, the report outlines a number of issues in it summary, which are relevant to the potential introduction of a student contribution in Ireland. These include:
(i) Affordability considerations: "It is proposed that the level of any new student contribution should be related to current fee levels for Irish/EU students who do not qualify for free fees."
(ii) Top-up Fees: "Consideration could also be given to providing for a premium or ‘top-up’ range within which individual institutions would be free to increase charges for particular programmes. This would allow individual institutions to incentivise participation on particular programmes or to generate additional revenue according to their ability to compete for students. Such an arrangement could have the benefits of promoting competition and quality within the system."
(iii) Transition: "In transitioning to new fee arrangements, it would be important to avoid any potential for immediate shortfalls in institutional budgets by pitching fees at levels that do not match current ‘free fee’ contribution rates."
(iv) Collection of loan repayments: "The involvement of the national tax collection agency has been identified as being a critical success factor for a number of income contingent student loan facility models that operate internationally... It is recognised, however, that there are significant operational pressures on the Revenue Commissioners in the current Irish context which would limit their capacity to take on a role of direct collection agent for an income contingent loan scheme."
(v) Public finance: "In the current economic circumstances, it would be important that the introduction of a student loan facility would be designed to minimise any impact on the General Government Balance (GGB) or on General Government Debt (GGD)."
(vi) Upfront payment and tax relief: "In the context of any introduction of a loan system, continuing tax relief for students who pay fees upfront would amount to a form of discount for upfront payment. From an equity perspective, this would need to be factored into any consideration of the appropriate rate of surcharge on those availing of a loan rather than paying upfront."
(vii) Communicating complex issues: "Any policy change in this area will impact on significant numbers of students or potential students. A number of the options being considered are complex in nature and would give rise to very significant demands for information and clarification. An information strategy will need to be in place to communicate the details of any changes and to provide user friendly access to relevant detail on how the changes impact on individuals."