Tuesday, November 02, 2010

How education policy is made

Martin has posted a link below to a very interesting lecture on Research and Policy Making given by Frances Ruane, director of the ESRI. The following observation I found striking:

"Getting something into the ‘programme for government’ in effect ensures that a policy is likely to be adopted, but perhaps just as importantly, has the effect of terminating any substantive debate subsequently on the issue. From what I can see, this is what happened to the De Buitléir Report on student grants mentioned earlier: there was a commitment to increasing access to higher education in the 1993 programme (which led to the report being commissioned) but in the negotiations of the 1995 programme that shifted to a commitment to ‘free fees’. This decision ran counter to the report’s evidence that this approach would not be the most cost effective or fair way of improving access, and consequently the report was kept out of the public domain until after the decision was made. What can we learn from this? Unless research is publicly available to inform the ‘programme for government’ process, its potential influence may be quite limited; even when it is available, it may be ignored."

7 comments:

Martin Ryan said...

What I am aware of is that in 1993, an expert group led by Dr De Buitleir made recommendations to improve the fairness of maintenance grant awards. It was proposed that family assets, including businesses and large farms, be taken into account as well as declared taxable income when eligibility for maintenance grants is being calculated. I am keen to see a copy of the De Buitléir Report though - it does not seem to be available anywhere on line.

It should also be mentioned that successful eligibility for a maintenance grant in the first year of higher education means that the student effectively qualifies to receive a maintenance grant in all subsequent years of higher education. Also, to my knowledge, the means testing of higher education maintenance grants has not been reformed since the De Buitleir recommendation was made. An OECD panel of international experts looked at the De Buitleir recommendation in 2005 and strongly urged that it be implemented.

According to John Walshe, in an article in the Irish Independent in 2006, a surprising number of “well-off” students qualify for financial assistance when participating in higher education - either through full or partial maintenance grants: “Most of the grants go, as intended, to those from low-income backgrounds; but the department tables for 2003-04 show that the list of grant-holders also includes a distinct group of students whose families have a professional or farming background”.

Of course, 2003-04 was a different world, and there is now room for much debate on the *level* of the student maintenancce grant. More pointedly though, with reports that the "registration fee" will soon approach a level that tuition fees were set at before their abolition in 2006, one wonders more than ever why we cannot begin to discuss the possible introduction of an income contingent student loan scheme.

Martin Ryan said...

Typo: before their abolition in *1996*

Mark McG said...

Sounds similar to what happened to the Kenny Report which advocated placing limits on the proceeds of land speculation. That would have saved us a whole lot of trouble, oh well. Funnily enough, the Greens seem to have changed their mind on it since getting into government. It was published in 1973, so let’s hope the De Buitléir Report is revisited sometime in the next 30 years.

Martin Ryan said...

Some searching brought up a parliamentary debate from May of last year.

Here is an excerpt from a section relating to student support schemes:

442. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science Information Zoom his views on the De Buitléir Report on Student Support 1993 and its principal recommendation that there be an assets based means test in the determination of eligibility for student support; his further views on recommendation 51 of the OECD Report on Higher Education 2004 in favour of the De Buitléir proposal and its view that the adoption of this scheme was an essential feature of any policy to bring back student tuition fees at third level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20159/09]

Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): The Report of the Advisory Committee on Third-Level Student Support which was chaired by Dónal de Buitléir was published in February, 1995 and included a number of recommendations, some of which have already been implemented. The issue of introducing an assessment of capital assets for the purposes of determining eligibility for student grants was among the issues considered and recommended by the report. The schemes of student support are currently under review in the context of the Programme of Administrative and Legislative Reform of Student Grants. The development of a single unified scheme and the means testing arrangements are being considered in this context.

As the Deputy will be aware, I am currently finalising a review of policy options relating to the introduction of a form of student contribution. There are many complex and competing considerations involved. These include considerations relating to institutional funding, family affordability, equity, participation and value for money for the taxpayer. However, it is an issue that merits consideration at this important juncture in the development of higher education and also given the current economic circumstances.

My officials are finalising a technical report on the various options available. This will look at available models and reports, including the OECD report referred to by the Deputy. It will assess the potential policy, cost and revenue impacts of various available approaches in an Irish context. I will be providing the completed technical report to my Cabinet colleagues for consideration in the near future. As the Deputy will appreciate, I do not wish to pre-empt any decisions of Government in relation to these matters.

[ENDS]

Martin Ryan said...

In his statement, Batt O'Keefe said:

"My officials are finalising a technical report on the various options available."

This must refer to the report that I linked to on the blog last week:

"Policy Options for New Student Contributions in Higher Education".

Kevin Denny said...

I don't know if an electronic copy of the De Buitléir report exists. The author doesn't have one.

The minister's reply is remarkably uninformative. I guess thats what ministers do.

Martin Ryan said...

In my searching, I also found this article by Niamh Bhreathnach:Why third-level fees
were abolished in Ireland
. It was published in Public Affairs Ireland in October 2008.

While Bhreathnach's re-counting of abolishing the tuition covenant tax relief is heartening (I am wary of tax reliefs in general), I am less enamoured with her comments on tuition fee abolition. I also find it somewhat puzzling to hear her say:

"Today as the Australian
loans scheme is being reassessed - too costly, too many reneging on loans - perhaps we might consider ways in which our present low
taxation system, with its many tax shelters, could help."

Firstly, if we have a low taxation system (which we do), then that is a push-factor towards a student contribution (on grounds of necessity).

Secondly, if the particulars of the Australian student loan scheme are not desirable, then why don't we look towards the best-practice student loan scheme? Why does Bhreathnach fail to mention the UK student loan scheme?

Thirdly, it is not altogether obvious to me that the Australian student loan scheme has performed that badly. Certainly, in this paper - Student Loans Repayment and Recovery:
International Comparisons
- which I blogged before here - the Australian student loan scheme is not painted in a negative light.

Finally, the Australian student loan scheme has been evaluated in a very positive light in relation to its impact on equality of access - Bruce Chapman and Chris Ryan report the following:

"The social composition of participants was different in 1999 from that of 1988: the distribution was more equal. That outcome reflected strong relative growth in participation in the middle of the wealth distribution. ...We find no evidence that participation fell among ‘marginal decision makers’—those who, while at school, did not intend to study at university. We conclude that HECS did not discourage university participation in general or among individuals from low wealth groups."