So Fine Gael have got off the fence and lined up with Fianna Fail. To be fair to them they’ve waited a while and while I welcome their 3rd way document as it contains a whole lot more than just funding of third level, graduate charges are what the media have focussed on rightly as it will lob on to those who wish to teach an additional levy on their PRSI. I welcome some aspects of the Fine Gael document but its important to have clear blue water between Labour and FG on the question of funding 3rd level. I always understood that we pay taxes to support education. Fine Gael has rushed into the announcement and had not thought through their policy. I couldn’t believe how complimentary Education Batt O’Keeffe was to FG this morning on radio, if I was an FG’er I’d have cringed! Let’s talk about 2 things I should know something about, science degrees and higher diplomas in education. FG’s plan to make students pay 30% of the cost of their education will see science graduates paying for much longer than graduates in other disciplines like Arts. FG’s proposal means a charge of over €16,000 per per science graduate in real terms, (figures from FG’s document “The 3rd Way” P 6). If this is to be paid off over 4 years, the time period needed to acquire this degree it would mean an additional €4,000 in levies on science graduates. Students wishing to pursue a post graduate course such as Higher Diplomas in Education will face additional costs Science is one discipline that has traditionally, along with arts, drawn under graduates from across the social spectrum. These levies will be presumably on top of other levies already in place because of the economic down turn. Who would want to be a teacher and pay at both ends backwards for your degree and forwards for your pension at extortionate rates? The average starting salary of 3rd level graduates is about €27,000 gross. I’m also worried at the prospect of a brain drain while we’re supposed to be developing a knowledge based and smart economy. FG’s plan is based on the premise that graduates automatically are protected against unemployment. As we know this is not the case at the moment, many graduates are losing their jobs. These charges will lead to a brain drain as graduates move to other countries to avoid paying charges, this at a time when the country needs to foster the knowledge economy. Presumably while at the same time foreign trained graduates would not be liable for the charge. Secondary students will consider leaving the Republic for Wales or Northern Ireland where already colleges have empty places and a student loans scheme where you pay as you earn significantly less than what FF or FG now want to charge. I want to see local graduates get jobs in the future at Coca Cola in Drinagh not pack their bags to work in R&D abroad.I’m also disappointed that Fine Gael are now opposed to the aim of having 72% of our LC students progressing to 3rd level. I am worried at the implications of less student places at third level will have for points as these will inevitably rise. Surely this will put more obstacles in the way of those from disadvantaged backgrounds where there is a poorer emphasis on education as away to self development. Fine Gael’s programme reeks of inequality. It will neither empower nor support a future for our young people. Fine Gael should remember that education based on equal access and universality is the only possible road to prosperity for our country and future generations. At this time we must strengthen participation in education, not force people to opt out. Social investment is imperative in dealing with the current economic crisis and laying the foundation for a decent cohesive society in the future. Do we actually need to rebrand our IT’s as a university or indeed does this just use up some of the €500M that they aim to raise. Has anyone heard of a campaign for university status for Tallaght, Letterkenny or Carlow? This all might sound fine during an election but why pile on extra to the already stretched cost when these colleges have not applied for upgrades to university status and the present universities by their own admission do not have enough money? Back to the drawing boards for FG, Should be plenty for them at NCAD!