Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Examination Fee.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

7 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for Education if she will make a statement on the charging of an examination fee for entry to State examinations; if she will outline how this can be justified in a free education system; and if she has any plans to abolish these charges.

Fees are charged to help defray the cost of running the examinations each year. The amount collected in fees falls far short of the overall cost which is estimated at £12 million this year.

I am aware that the payment of fees can cause hardship in certain cases. For this reason there is a scheme in operation whereby fees can be reduced or waived in cases of hardship at the discretion of the school principal, subject to a specified total amount in the case of each school. There are no proposals for the abolition of examination fees.

The question relates to free education. How free is education if fees are charged for certificates? The two are not compatible. I am sure the Minister would agree that the examination fees should form part of the overall cost of education. Under the constitution, primary education is free and, under legislation, second level education is also free. Therefore why is there a charge for examinations? Does the Minister believe that the cost of education should be met by the students, along with the examination fee?

The question relates to examination fees. In an ideal world none of us would pay for anything if we had our way but I do not want to address the question in that frivolous way. It is estimated that £5 million will be brought in in 1990 by way of examination fees while it will cost £12 million this year to run the examinations. The Deputy asked why take the examination fees as a separate component and should they not form part of the overall cost. If the money were available we could investigate this option but I do not have £5 million to waive all examination fees.

The Minister for Education is not the Minister for Finance, but surely, the Minister for Education should be fighting for her fair share. I often wonder if the Minister has ever fought for an extra penny or even offered further cuts. The Minister collects almost 50 per cent of the cost of running examinations by way of the examination fees. Does this mean that the Minister would be agreeable to collecting 50 per cent of the cost of education?

Absolutely not. I have made it absolutely clear that what we are talking about is the examination fee. I will invite the Deputy some day to be a fly on the wall at Cabinet——

I would love to be there.

——when he would see what goes on and the way in which we fight for what we want. I am not talking about the whole education system as the Deputy's question relates to the examination fees which have been in existence for a long time. I am wondering why the Deputy is putting emphasis on this matter now at a time when the examinations are taking place. The Deputy did not remark that, at the discretion of the principal, the fees may be waived for those students who find it difficult to pay them. However, the Deputy has chosen to ignore this point entirely. The parents of many students can well afford to pay the examination fees. Is the Deputy making a case for them or does he believe——

I am making the case for free education and not for means tests.

Let us hear the Minister.

Would the Deputy not agree that those who need it most should get whatever we can make available by way of a waiver scheme? That is an extraordinary assumption on the Deputy's part.

We should not introduce a means test for education.

What the Deputy is saying——

It is either free or it is not.

——is that he does not agree with a waiver scheme for disadvantaged pupils. That is what the Deputy is saying.

That is not what I am saying.

He is not saying that.