Within the State funded education sector alone, at least 180,000 students annually pursue part-time courses varying from hobby and leisure courses to basic education, personal development, vocational training and formally certified further and higher education programmes. Additional expenditure on free fees has to be considered in the light of other demands in the education system in increasing lifelong learning opportunities, tackling educational disadvantage at all levels, addressing capital and equipment needs and improving support services across the system. To abolish fees for all part-time students would be extremely costly and there are no plans at present to do so.
However, the importance and impact of funding arrangements is recognised in the light of the challenges facing education institutions in regard to issues such as equity, flexibility, competitiveness, workplace learning and demographic change. The issue of part-time fees is one of the areas being examined at present by the task force on lifelong learning which was established by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in collaboration with education, training, community and voluntary and social partner interests. The issue will be reviewed in the light of the recommendations in the task force report, which is due shortly, and the budgetary situation.