Cassells Report - Order of Business 12 July 2016
Posted on July 12, 2016
I also call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills in the House on the Cassells report. Like other speakers, I believe it is a very urgent and important issue, and one which we should debate in the House, in particular because six Senators represent university constituencies.
Unlike Senator O'Donnell, I think the report was helpful. It was not very surprising, in that Peter Cassells had more or less indicated what would be in it. The Royal Irish Academy did a good deal of work on the report. Senator Ruane and I spoke at a seminar in Trinity College some months ago which examined the different models under consideration. Like Senator Ruane, who has put the case for the State funded system very eloquently, and which the Cassells report puts forward as option one, I would also endorse that option. It is the way we should proceed and is the norm across other EU countries. It clearly provides for education as a right rather than a privilege. In the same way as Donogh O'Malley provided for free secondary education in this country, which was a revolutionary move at the time, we should move back to that system and reject the proposal for a deferred payment loan system as proposed in the other options.
In response to Senator O'Donnell's point on the funding needs of universities, it is very clear if one looks at the evidence gathered by a range of different bodies, including the European University Association, that between 2008 and 2013, inclusive, Ireland had an 18% increase in student numbers but a 29% decrease in public funding. Student numbers increased at a very significant rate, yet funding has fallen which of course has had an effect in terms of declines in international rankings and student-to-staff ratios. In 2016, they were 21:1, compared to the OECD average of 14:1.
We need to be very clear about the needs of third level, in particular when we consider demographic change. The Cassells report states that €1 billion is needed over the next 15 years by way of investment in third level to accommodate a growing population. We need to be clear about the urgency of introducing a new system for funding universities. We also need to be very clear about the disadvantages of a deferred payment loan scheme. The Cassells report puts the evidence fairly.