Monday, November 01, 2010

The general theory of stupidity, university fees and utter baloney

This Irish Times article discusses the Green Party's apparent aversion to a new system of student charges that - apparently- the government is considering introducing. The proposal is for a new "student contribution fee" on top of the existing student registration charge.
According to their spokesman, a Mr Gogarty, this would conflict with the Program for Government which agreed that “This Government will not proceed with any new scheme of student contribution to third-level education.” Yes, it certainly sounds inconsistent.
The spokesman adds " “We have conceded that the new student charge that’s coming in is going to be higher than the registration fee it replaces, but the question is, how much higher? If it is too high, then it’s basically fees by the back door....That’s non-negotiable as far as I am concerned,”

A fee is a fee whatever you call it. Just as calling a tax a "contribution" or a "levy" makes no difference. So if you concede that there is a new charge being introduced then it is a fee on top of the fee that is already there. To say "if its too high then it's basically fees by the back door" is risible in my view. It is fees by the front door and irrespective of the level set.
And what is "too high" anyway? If it was €10 would that be too high? Eh, no. €10,000? Eh, yes. So it is negotiable actually.
In the discussions about how the government's book-keeping deals with expenditures related to the banking rescue it has been emphasized again and again that international markets see through any creative accounting. These people are not stupid. Likewise students and their parents are not stupid: they know a shake-down when they see one. So why is it so hard for politicians to be transparent and honest about such an important issue?
It seems that the "Fees debate" will continue to attract incoherent thinking, dissembling and general woolly-mindedness.

1 comment:

Peter Carney said...

It all boils down to the fact that the overwhelming majority of public policy in Ireland is built with the type of vision and precision you would expect to find in a schoolyard sandbox; misadventures, catastrophes, and vanity projects included.

But to be fair though, the stupidity and baloney thats being discussed extends perfectly well on to the University sector itself. A agent, unlike the government, that would find it difficult to be indemnified due to ignorance.

Moreover, it should be recognised, today's fees is most likely not even a government initiative. I would suspect it is lead directly by the University president who are unwilling to accept any financial reorganization of their operations. The University President defending the proposal on RTE Radio1 this morning lends to this argument.

Our criticism has to recognise the active role the Universities play in shaping these policies. Its not just today's fees and financing issue either. Think back to the initial "widening of participation" policies: the rapid expansion of the sector, the saturation of campuses, the general decline in education quality vis-a-vis research objectives, the sliding of grading standards.