As the Deputy will be aware, under my Department’s free fees schemes, the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible students with students paying the student contribution which currently stands at €3,000.
The Student Contribution, was introduced with effect from the 2011/12 academic year. While the student contribution now stands at €3,000, it is important to recognise that there has been no increase in the contribution since 2014/15. The exchequer pays this contribution (or part of it) on behalf of almost 50% of undergraduate students who are in receipt of student grant assistance.
Following a request from the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills for an economic examination of the three policy options proposed by the report on future funding of higher education (Cassells report), my Department engaged with the European Commission Structural Support Service throughout 2018 to ascertain the scope for the economic evaluation to be carried out with support from the European Commission Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP). The SRSP provides tailor-made support to all EU countries for their institutional, administrative and growth-enhancing reforms to carry out the analysis of the three policy options identified by the Expert Group.
A formal application for support under the SRSP was submitted in October 2018 and subsequently approved by the Commission. The Commission has sought the submission for proposals to undertake the work as outlined in the detailed Terms of Reference. It is currently expected that the evaluation of the applications will be completed in September 2019 and the review commence following the appointment of a consultant.
Having this evaluation undertaken through the Commission’s SRSP will provide access to the type of independent international expertise and analysis that will be very beneficial to a major evaluation of this nature. I have no plans to implement policy changes with regards to funding options pending the outcome of this review.