Lets look at specifics. Mexico, where the school leaving age is 15 as opposed to 16 here, still spends more of its wealth on education (6.5%) as opposed to our value of 4.6%. 2005 was the year when the newly appointed Minister Mary Hanafin who had just said that school buildings were to get more investment and that the proposal to have a PTR of 20:1 by 2007 was a noble aspiration returned €50M to the Dept of Finance unspent at the year’s end. We spent slightly more here than Greece where the school leaving age is 14½.
Lets look at another set of figures. When Niamh Breathnach was Labour’s only Education Minister ever in 1995, she spent 1.3% of total wealth on 3rd level. Subsequent to this Niamh Breathnach introduced free fees which meant that the total payment for a smaller student body to third level went up significantly. By the time Mary Hanafin was in charge in 2005 the allocation to 3rd level fell back to 1.2% of GDP and that includes paying student fees. Now we know why University heads want the return of fees and the suggestion that they be only for well off is a fig leaf because the level of chronic under funding which the government has presided over in the last decade will not be addressed by the €20M it is estimated they’ll raise. If its €20M you want why not auction off the Book of Kells!
You want another set of figures? OK. In 1995 % spending on primary and second level was 3.8% of GDP. Within 5 years FF had cut that back to 2.9%. In 2000 only 4 other countries surveyed by the OECD were lower, what a way to start a millennium. In 2005 we spent about 40% of what was spent in Luxembourg on each second level students. At this time only Luxembourg’s per capita income in terms of GDP earned more than Ireland’s of any other EU country.
Given the neglect and the political reality that the Greens are talking about a 5% cut in government spending and Ciaran Cuffe’s view that means testing should be used in regard to 3rd level fees there’s no sign that this government is for turning. Cuffe’s comment is a U-turn for a party that said a month ago that university fees were not part of the programme for government. That’s a shame for the 40K kids who’re taught in draughty prefabs and the 100K who are in classes of 30 or more. Some time ago the present Minister was elected on a commitment that for children under 9 a PTR of no more than 20:1 would apply.
Labour has called for a target of 25:1 PTR and primary level, a programme of school buildings and a targeted investment to deal with disadvantage. The Green Party entered government with a ring fenced budget to deal with disadvantage. I’ve never seen so much as a bob of it spent in Wexford. Time that they started delivering. This is one subject that’s not going to go away.