Marc Morrison

Budget 2018 will bring an additional €47.5m of funding for third level education via a 0.1 per cent increase in the National Training Fund levy.

The increase will bring the levy up to 0.8 per cent for 2018. The levy will continue to rise by 0.1 per cent each year till it reaches 1 per cent in 2020.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills told the Edition, “A range of reforms will be implemented in the NTF from 2018 onwards, including a comprehensive review of the NTF to guide strategic decisions on its structure and future direction, additional  and refocused expenditure on programmes relevant to employers, greater alignment of NTF-funded programmes with employer needs and a greater say for employers, more transparency and a greater focus on evaluation.”

In his Budget 18 speech the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue said, “it will ensure that employers have an essential role for determining priorities in this crucial sector”.

The Cassels report published in July 2016 set out 3 funding approaches for consideration: a publicly funded system where the student contribution charge would be abolished and third level education would be free at the point of entry: an increase in public funding but a continuation of the student contribution charge or the implementation of an income contingent student loan system.

Recent commentary has been focused on the option of an income contingent student loan scheme, sparking the USI to organise a protest in Dublin on October 4 which resulted in thousands of students protesting outside Government Buildings.

While the Government are yet to make a decision on a new approach to funding third level education and continue to emphasise the work of the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills on the matter – Leo Varadkar is on the record as saying he would not like graduates to be “saddled with enormous debts”.

In a press release, USI President Michael Kerrigan described the budget as leaving students behind he said “No income-contingent student loans were announced today, but neither was any meaningful new funding model on how third-level education should be funded.”

Kerrigan also said, “With the cost of living soaring, SUSI grant thresholds needed to be adjusted to allow middle income earners to be able to access the SUSI grant scheme more allowing for students to be financially able to attend and apply themselves in third level.”

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