The question of introducing fees allied to an income contingent loan scheme has been identified previously, including in the Hunt report, as a means of addressing future funding issues in the sector while retaining free access at the point of entry. A technical report on options for the development of such a scheme was developed by my Department in 2009 and is published on my Department's website.
As the Deputy is aware the Higher Education Authority (HEA) is undertaking a study on the sustainability of the current funding system for higher education. This study was initiated at my request and an initial report has been published. This report makes it clear that immediate work is required to prepare for a longer term approach to a system that can be maintained through a sustainable funding base which will be able to address the continual expansion of the sector while protecting quality of education. The HEA is continuing its work in this area and I will be advised further as this work progresses. The report will help inform the decision-making as to the future funding of the sector.