Written Answers - Free Fees Charges.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

71 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals, if any, he has to cap the £260 registration fee in third level colleges; if he will ensure the maximum transparency and accountability in the disbursement of the fee among clubs, societies and student support services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25827/98]

In the context of the free fees initiative, the third level colleges levied a standardised charge of £150 in the 1995-6 academic year for examinations, registration and student services. This charge was fixed at a maximum of £150 for two academic years. At that time, the then Minister stated that the level of the charge would be reviewed. In the light of the arguments advanced by the universities that the true costs of the charges would on average amount to £400 in 1997-8, the need for improved student services and the fact that the charge had been frozen since 1995, I accepted that the third level institutions could increase this charge to £250 for the 1997-8 academic year. In line with the 4 per cent increase agreed for third level tuition fees for the 1998-9 academic year, I also accepted a similar increase in the level of this charge to £260. The level of the charge is subject to annual review. Students who are eligible for maintenance grants under the means tested student support schemes do not have to pay this charge.

The distribution of the charge payable by students for registration, exams and student services, is a matter for the third level institution involved. When I accepted that the third level institutions could increase this charge, I was concerned about that portion of the charge, which is intended to fund student services and in particular, the lack of transparent procedures. Accordingly, I requested the chairman of the Higher Education Authority to reconvene the working group, which was previously established to review and make recommendations on the implementation of the charge, to prepare a framework of good practice in relation to this charge, with particular reference to the principles of transparency and accountability. The Higher Education Authority issued the framework to the publicly funded third level institutions in January 1998.

The framework consists of guidelines to establish an appropriate system of consultation with students in the allocation of funding from the charge and in the determination of student services to be funded from this source. In relation to the issue of transparency, the framework recommends that each institution should provide information as to the allocation of the charge towards exams registration and towards student services on an annual basis.
As recommended by the working group, the Higher Education Authority is co-ordinating a review of the consultative and decision making procedures in place in the various third level institutions in relation to the disbursement of these funds. I expect to receive a report from the authority in this regard before the end of the year. I would also mention that I have asked USI to provide me with details of any difficulties that it considers to have arisen.