The Labour Party has called for a return to the “founding principles” of free education following a European report highlighting the cost of college in Ireland.
The party has insisted that there is no reason Ireland should charge for third level education when primary and secondary school is free.
The report from the European Commission found that Irish students are charged the second highest college fees in Europe.
Coming in at approximately €3,000 a year, the only students in Europe facing higher fees are those in England and Wales.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the current system in Ireland does not make any sense.
He noted that the €3,000 ‘registration fee’ has risen steadily over the years - noting that he only paid £120 in 1997.
“I think the conversation now has to be about how we eliminate the fee in its entirety and not just how we manage it,” he said.
He said the Labour Party pre-budget submission included a €1,000 reduction in the registration fee - intended as a first step towards eliminating fees entirely.
“I think that the entirety of Irish society benefits from having a highly educated workforce,” he said.
“We need teachers, we need guards, we need doctors and we need nurses.”
“All of us benefit from people who have a third level education not just the students themselves.”
Free third level
The European Commission report - comparing fee systems in 42 European countries - found that 11 states have free third level education.
A further 14 charge less than €1,000 per year – with some charging only nominal amounts.
France, for example, charges students €184 per year.
Senator Ó Ríordáin said government plans to introduce a student loan scheme are ‘worrying,’ adding that it is time to return to a vision for free education right through from primary to third level.
“At this stage in our evolution, if you like, as a republic we should get back to those founding principles of free education,” he said.
“I don’t understand why we absolutely accept that collectively at primary level, at secondary level, but we don’t accept it third level.
“It is and would be a barrier if we were to bring in a student loan scheme, which the government seems to be playing around with that idea.”
The European Commission report is available here.