A Wexford academic based in Perth has backed Ireland introducing a HECS-style student loan system.
After years of spending cuts after Ireland fell into a deep recession in 2008, third level education in Ireland is under severe funding pressure.
Tom O’Donoghue, a professor of educational research at the University of Western Australia, is a strong supporter of Ireland introducing its own version of Australia’s Higher Education Contributions Scheme (HECS).
“It takes the parents’ [financial] situation out of the equation completely. At 18 you are old enough to get married or to buy a house; you are an adult for all intents and purposes,” Prof O’Donoghue told the Irish Echo.
“But [regarding third level education] the mindset in Ireland is locked into parental means. What parental means should have to do with you at that age is beyond me. You are the person who will yield the financial benefit from it. Having parents as part of the equation at that stage is unjust.”
Prof O’Donoghue said a HECS-style system would be good for Ireland. “I think the way it is established is very fair. Is it better than a bank loan because you are not locked into a ‘pay or else’ situation. The payments, when you make them, will go up and down depending on your circumstances, and it will not kick in until you reach a particular threshold,” he said.
Queensland woman Bridie Jabour, whose mother is from Derry, and who has relatives in Limerick, says a HECS-style system would work in Ireland and that it is not onerous to pay back. “It comes out of my salary pretax. I don’t even notice it. You don’t have to pay anything unless you are earning a certain amount of money, and I think that benchmark is fair as well,” she said.
Fees for higher education were done away with in Ireland two decades ago, but since then the student registration fee has climbed to €3,000 ($6,230) a year. It is likely, regardless of who is in power after the general election, that Ireland will soon bring in some kind of income-contingent student loan scheme.
Bruce Chapman of the Australian National University in Canberra, who was one of the original designers of HECS in the late 1980s, says any government looking to introduce a similar system into Ireland should do so “in a careful and considered way”.