Business of Joint Committee.

Before I call the officials from the Department of Education and Science to address the committee, I will deal with an item of correspondence in public session. The committee has received a letter from the president of Trinity College Dublin's students union, Mr. Cónán Ó Broin, regarding the disbursement of the €1,500 registration fee. An accompanying memo, which has been circulated to members, has been cited by Mr. Ó Broin as evidence that the registration fee is being charged in lieu of cuts to the State's core grant to Trinity College and is not being used solely for the provision of student services. Would anyone like to address the issue briefly before I make a recommendation on the matter?

This serious issue has come to my attention. We have evidence for the first time that a substantial amount of the student registration charge of €1,500, which was introduced by the Government last year, is not being used for student services at all. I wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General earlier today to ask him initiate an immediate investigation of the seven universities and 15 institutes of technology and to determine the total sum of the €1,500 that is being charged that is not going to student services. I understand the institutes and universities concerned have a legal responsibility to charge for only that portion which relates to student services. We have evidence from Trinity College Dublin — I refer to the abridged accounts that are before the committee — to show that a substantial amount of the student charge is used for the core maintenance of that university. This once more highlights the suggestion I made last year that the Government has introduced fees by the back door. I regret that none of the Fianna Fáil members of the committee is present here today. The Chairman is the only member of the committee from the Government side who is in attendance. I would have thought he has a responsibility to ensure that the Minister for Education and Science takes this matter seriously. We have direct evidence that students are being fleeced with a charge that is not directly related to student services.

I support the views expressed by Deputy Hayes.

Deputy Hayes and other members of the committee will be happy that I have pursued this issue as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Science and as the Green Party's education spokesman. When I discussed it with Mr. Ó Broin, I suggested that he should send me a letter in my capacity as Chairman of this committee. Although I was aware of this information, I thought it would be better if it were brought before the committee, which could make a recommendation and forward it on. The Minister has stated categorically that there will be no increase in registration fees unless the cost of providing services to students goes up too. I disagree slightly with what Deputy Hayes said about the active participation of the Government in the introduction of fees by the back door. I agree that the manner in which registration fees are assessed and student support services are totted up might not be very clear. As Deputy Hayes said, clarity is required from the institutions themselves. There are two issues at stake. If the registration fee in most colleges is not reduced this year, the colleges will have to provide significantly enhanced student services. I am aware of a college in which the gymnasium has been closed. It is not as if registration fees have not been paid to keep it open and to provide staffing levels. I suggest that the clerk to the committee should forward Mr. Ó Broin's letter and the accompanying memo to the private secretary to the Minister for Education and Science and ask for an urgent pre-budget response to the issue. A copy of the response we receive can be sent to Mr. Ó Broin for information.