Kevin Denny’s working paper on the effect of abolishing university fees in Ireland is available on this link
University tuition fees for undergraduates were abolished in Ireland in 1996. This paper examines the effect of this reform on the socioeconomic gradient (SES) to determine whether the reform was successful in achieving its objective of promoting educational equality. It finds that the reform clearly did not have that effect. It is also shown that the university/SES gradient can be explained by differential performance at second level which also explains the gap between the sexes. Students from white collar backgrounds do significantly better in their final second level exams than the children of blue-collar workers. The results are very similar to recent findings for the UK. I also find that certain demographic characteristics have large negative effects on school performance i.e. having a disabled or deceased parent. The results show that the effect of SES on school performance is generally stronger for those at the lower end of the conditional distribution of academic attainment.
148 replies on “Kevin Denny: The Effect of Abolishing University Fees”
Does it control for IQ? Or like every university study ever, ignore the most important variable?
Read the conclusion, interesting.
What about the mature student route, or was this included into the access programme?
I would submit that fees werent as much abolished as taken from the public purse.
Along with an economic analysis of the fees question, there also needs to be a consideration as to what would ennoble the individual student or student population to the opportunities that third level education can afford them.
Like many other oppurtunities in this country, we are questioning whether we can afford them. Can we afford to send X % of people to university? and using what metrics shall we measure the return.
Padraic Conway has an article here:
I agree with it, but the university model as a perpetuter of the arts is quite an expensive method!
Anyways, rambles is the best I can do tonight!
Thanks Kevin for this wonderful work. When all the monetary problems sort themselves out (as they tend to do) its the real and human side of the economy that presents the truly daunting challenge. The other stuff is just accountancy really! Thanks again. David
Comment deleted. I can think of another two words that might be appropriate for people who keep trying to wreck good threads.
Fair enough. I didn’t want to derail the thread, just to bring an important story related to children to the attention of the readership. If they wanted to discuss it at length this was not the place, as they could so so on the specific politics.ie thread which deals with the almost two children every month who may(?) have died in HSE care in the last ten years.
We have a de facto segregation in schools, rarely publicly discussed in the context of educational outcomes, and in areas in which people live and therefore in schools and peer groups, even more rarely publicly discussed. In this we are very similar to Britain, a country which has wrestled with the results of the former with little success for many years and also ignores the latter. Until we address school and neighbourhood segregation simultaneously with measures to really push talented poorer children any policies we adopt will address the symptoms and not the cause. They will therefore in overall terms fail.
The reference to pushing talented poorer children by myself was patronising and inaccurate. What needs to be done is to push all poorer children.
It’s definitely an interesting study, and one that seems to confirm a lot of common sense assumptions that could be made about the free fees system.
The point about children of deceased/disabled fathers is interesting. It actually jars with my own personal experience (the two highest-achievers I know, including my girlfriend, are products of one-parent households), but it is certainly worth examining.
p.s. there are a lot of grammar errors/typos in the text – needs an editor :p
My thanks to Liam Delaney for posting this (unprompted by me) & for people’s interest in my work.
Dave, you might enjoy this: http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/why-cry-over-split-milk
All very good and also predictable. IQ is important ands there are other indicators of success.
What about the waste allowing in weak students, and washing them out in the first year? Pour encourager les autres is fine, but the figures are too high.
Too many persons have undeclared alliances, via masonry of whatever “religious” persuasion.
The emphasis on third level as a “career clincher” is fine for an econopmy based upon rent seeking, but a productive one?
Cut back on “investment” except to level the playing field for outstanding candidates, based on objective tests. Or waste more money……
Kevin, I’m an editor; I WON’T DIE UNTIL I’VE CRIED OVER EVERYONE’S SPILLED MILK.
It will be (mildly) interesting to see how the Labour party react to this. They tout the free fees, as they call it, as one of their finest achievements. Despite the evidence which has emerged since (now including Kevin’s recent work) they claim it has in fact opened up university to those of poorer backgrounds. They have defended this notion so trenchently – against now overwhelming evidence to the contrary – that they are never going to back down. Which means that if fees are not introduced again before the end of the present administration – which now seems unlikely – they will not be introduced by the next government either since Labour will be in coalition.
Interesting piece. I would put the question of access before fees, but that is a personal choice. Many useful questions are raised – like why a ‘third-level’ education anyway? (or should that be training?). Newman? Dewey, Montessori? or A N Whitehead. Lots to choose from.
The point about early learning is vital. If you miss the various ‘milestomes’ befor eyou are 7 yr you will never really make up the loss – the cut-off point is about 11 -12 yr. Disruption in family circumstances can have a devastating effect on attainment – but can be dealt with if you have a supportive culture in the school.
The Primary curriculum (National) is mediocre – the Leaving is dreadful. But attempting reforms here is a complete waste of time. There are too many ‘interested parties’. Lots of chefs – no cooks!
Someone mentioned IQ: Careful. IQ is multi-dimensional. Female and male intellectual and cognitive developments are not equivalent – similar, but sufficiently different to be considered separately. Maturity is as long as a piece of string. Someone also mentioned Mature Students – now there’s a category you might well investigate.
Our ‘university’ system (all TL colleges) – for want of a better phrase, is 19th century vintage. Education should not be considered as three consecutive experiences (primary, sec. and third), but as a single, continuous entity with the pupose of delivering technically competent (and hopefully wise) citizens. Should ‘we’ pay for this. Well I thought we were – via taxes. As I said at the outset, deal with the very lopsided access problem first – then sort out the payment details.
“Someone mentioned IQ”
I thought – foolishly it seems – that this quack bullshit metric, designed to show that white upperclass, are of superior intelligence, was discredited decades ago.
Cross posting this comment from University Blog – where there is a debate on this work also playing out.
Nice work by Kevin.
In other blogs someone makes the point about Institutes of Technology. It is unquestionably the case that the socioeconomic mix is greater – but that masks the issue as perhaps the reason for this is that the points required tend to be lower and therefore the secondary school kids from poorer (in income and in quality!) schools can only hope to make it to the IOT’s. This choking off of potential students due to socioeconomic status at secondary school level is shameful and given the evidence of the effectiveness of access programmes for these students it is also bad for the country as it is not clear that the most productive are getting the education they deserve.
Kevin’s paper also makes the point about official statistics, or lack of. I am just back from Oz and the fuss there about myschool.com website was intense. It is soon to be followed by the myuni.com website!! Through this parents get tons of data. Teacher unions hate it – and hate also the high school tests that underpin the data. Each parent gets a very easily understood graphic of their child’s score, the national average, the middle 60 per cent, a minimum standards – all over time to assess cohort change! See http://www.naplan.edu.au/verve/_resources/Understanding_Your_Childs_Report_FINAL_a.pdf
Does the school quality stuff matter. It sure does – many Uni’s are under the cosh from the HEA over diversity of student body but it still remains the case that by and large Uni’s don’t know who is coming until they turn up at the gate in September. And the school quality data publication also appears to matter – look at the recent paper from the Netherlands at http://www.cpb.nl/eng/pub/cpbreeksen/discussie/149/disc149.pdf – schools that had a negative score suddenly improved!
@ AMcG: “Quack bullshit metric”. Near enough!
However, if the tests (several, over time) are comprehensive (which is rare) they can give valuable information about different types of cognitive content and intellectual development – up to that time. Predicting future intellectual development on the other hand, is a very dodgey proposition – but the compulsion to attempt this is very powerful. And there are plenty of charlatans and fools. Sentiment always trumps reason.
Mind you, you can spot the ‘good’ mathematicians as young a 5 yr! Those who will eventually progress to above average language and writing skills are obvious at about 7 yr. Though ‘poor’ schooling after this can attenuate any early promise.
“Making Vocational Choices: 2nd ed.” J Holland: ISBN 0-13-547597-X. Is a useful self-test.
Apart from the compelling conclusion of the report on its main area of focus, the lack of impact of free fees, a couple of areas are crucial in the larger discussion it raises.
The first is when discussing the difference in points outcomes for various SES profiles. The report says “Whether this is due to how the respective schools operate or their parents is a moot point.” (page 11) If we’re looking for solutions then this is surely not a moot point!
Second is pretty much all of page 15 and 16, where the report speculates on the potential causes of the difference of educational attainment coming out of high school and admits that we’d need much more data to understand this. Do we really not have such data?
Finally, apart from our apparent ignorance on the causes of low academic performance for some socioeconomic sectors (not so mysterious, surely), the report (correctly) doesn’t ask the question on how we were previously OK with discriminating against financing of adult Irish citizens access to university on the basis of their parent’s income.
This is a very valuable piece.
I’d like to make a couple of comments in the spirit of being a ‘devil’s advocate’ – not necessarily in disagreement.
First, universal benefits always provide a windfall to the middle and upper classes. However, such benefits tend to be more robust in terms of how well they are sustained over time – precisely because the middle classes don’t want to lose them – and they also have the advantage of not stigmatizing the recipients. They become part of the shared entitlements of being citizens of the state, and therefore could be argued to promote social cohesion. See also the response to threats to the old age pension compared to the cuts that have been imposed on other social welfare programmes. So might one argue that, while ‘free fees’ have not improved access to higher education, they have not disimproved it and may well have insulated government assistance to participation in higher education from cuts in the present climate (albeit at the cost of deteriorating funds for the sector as a whole)?
Second, Kevin makes a very interesting point about how those entitled to grants before the introduction of ‘free fees’ didn’t have to pay fees at that time anyway. However (anecdotally), it seems to me that a big problem with the grants system was that it had been brought into disrepute by the perception that it was widely abused. I suppose this is linked to my first point. State benefits are more valued and sustainable, and more likely to promote social cohesion and a shared sense of citizenship, when they are universal.
This is indeed a very valuable piece.
May I make a couple of comments in the spirit of ‘devil’s advocate’ – not necessarily in disagreement?
First, universal benefits always provide a windfall to the middle and upper classes. However, they are also more robust in terms of their sustainability over time – precisely because the middle classes don’t want to lose them. They also have the advantage of not stigmatizing the recipients, and could therefore be argued to improve social cohesion – that is, they become part of the entitlements we all share as citizens of the state. So might one argue that, while the introduction of ‘free fees’ did not improve access to higher education, it did not disimprove it and may have insulated government assistance to participation against cuts in the present climate (albeit at the expense of lower funding for the higher educations sector as a whole. See also the old age pension.
Second, Kevin makes the excellent point that those in receipt of higher education grants before the introduction of the ‘free fees’ scheme didn’t have to pay fees anyway. But (anecdotally), it seems to me that the grants system suffered from a ‘reputational’ problem – it was perceived to be widely abused. I suppose this is linked to my earlier point; universal schemes have much greater legitimacy, are more highly valued and therefore have greater ‘staying power’ than targeted ones.
Reading the report confirmed what many people involved in education, perhaps already felt was the position. There is one issue however, which I feel was also a major motivator in many children from working class backgrounds not taking up or wanting to take up a chance to go to third level. There was plenty of work available.
In my time as a member of a number of Boards of Management at primary & secondary level, I have seen a very large of children, mainly boys, leave or lose interest in schooling as there was plenty of apprenticeships or even labouring, which paid €800 per week into your hand. They grew up during the boom and it was easy to get a job.
The damage the mass movement of urban middle class children into the private school ghettos made the position considerably worse. Dublin schools in my experience are with very few exceptions more rigidly socially divided than ever.
I take Jane’s point in relation to the grants system. It was very easy for a self-employed individual to structure their income and expenses in a particular year so as to bring themselves below the income limit for a grant, the figures at the time proved it.
But, who is going to call for the reintroduction of fees?
School-leavers walking straight into jobs that paid €800 a week? I find that hard to believe even in boom boom Ireland.
The real problem with third level education and the poor is that nobody (other than the occassional rare teacher and especially not close family or peer group) is encouraging or motivating disadvantaged children to take the opportunity. Lack of encouragement = lack of confidence to take big steps in your life when you are young. And I am writing from first-hand experience. Fortunately, I was able to recover. Most of my friends never did.
It makes a big difference to your life when the parents are able to put the family allowance into a savings account to ensure your success in and enjoyment of the education system rather than having to spend it on food (or worse still, spending it on booze and cigs).
Just to note that demographics contributed to the relative rise of private schooling. The number of 13-18 year olds in Dublin fell by 21.5% (23,900) between the Censuses of 1996 and 2006. Non-fee paying schools lost out, not so much because there was a big increase in numbers entering fee paying schools (as far as I can tell, the increase was fairly modest), as because they bore the full brunt of the decrease in the size of the school going population.
Interesting response in the Indo today on the issues raised by Kevin. http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/debate-was-abolition-of-college-fees-a-good-idea-2192799.html
Niamh Breathenach not surprisingly supports her decision. It seems to be based on a conversation with a taxi-driver, and to suggest that the data are incomplete such as to cast doubt on the conclusions. Colm Harmon (again, no surprise) suggests that evidence, rather than ideology, might be a useful starting point to consider the efficacy of policy initiatives.
There is so much that could be identified in Irish education.
In a generation or two, I believe that we will look at the corraling of all second level students into the ~Univeristy/IOT model as ineffective.
The Kraftworker model from Germany offers a good example
I think it would be interesting to see how the coefficients for LC points are different for each socio-economic group, and if they changed over time. I’d also be very interested especially if there was a quantile regression based on points for who goes to college.
Eg the treatment (free fees) may have little impact on those who get 500+ points, and little impact on those who get <200 points, but it might have a big impact on those around 350-400 points who are at the margins of whether or not to go to university.
The question which should be considered and is not in the paper by Kevin Denny is this: Which socio economic groups were being dettered from going to college by tuition fees?
According to studies by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) between 1980 and 1992, the children of all but three social groups out of 11 improved their participation rate in college. The three social groups were the Lower Professional, Salaried Employees, Intermediate Non-Manual workers – all low-to-middle-income PAYE workers. The participation rate of children from the three social groups concerned not only did not improve but worsened from the years 1986 to 1992. According to the study of entrants in 1998 by the HEA ‘Who went to College in 1998’, that trend was reversed and their participation increased further in the years that followed. Some of those in those three groups would have qualified for a grant and many of them would have been above the income limits for grants.
According to the HEA in its most recent study of all entrants to third level ‘Who Went to College in 2004’ groups that increased participation rates between 1998 and 2004 included “the Skilled Manual Group almost doubling to a range of 50-60% compared to 32% in 1998. The Semi and Unskilled Socio-Economic Group has improved from 23% to between 33-40% over the same period (Table 3.8).”
(Who Went to College in 2004? A National Survey of New Entrants to Higher Education
By Philip O’Connell (ESRI), David Clancy (Fitzpatrick Associates) and Selina McCoy (ESRI). Published by The Higher Education Authority.)
It may well be that the HEA are due to publish a study in 2012 in relation to 2010 college entrants as its pattern has been to carry out these studies every six years and such a study will give a far more comprehensive picture of who goes to college and from what socio economic background,s than Kevin’s paper possibly can. But contrary to what he, and the people who have commented above, seem to have deduced from his paper, the abolition of fees has meant that many socio economic groups that were previously less likely to send their kids to college prior to the abolition of fees, were more likely to do so subsequent to the abolition of fees.
Joanna Tuffy T.D.
Thank you Joanna
And a further tip of the hat for not referencing conversations with taxi drivers, bus drivers or train conductors…
A seperate point to make is that the determination from parents income as to collge fees was badly in need of reform and disgracefully discriminatory against paye workers.
This may have been an option back then where the paye limit could have been lowered.
There is an argument for taking the parents out of the equation altogether and have a tax rate of X% for X years for graduates.
This may individualise the situation and take parental influence out of it.
But would you trust government to keep that tax rate fair?
Thoughtful comment but….
1. Denny work is about the University sector – the HEA report covers all HE institutions. The Denny work excluding the IoTs is correct for the task he is undertaking. IoTs students largely faced no fees due to structural fund money (indeed many received a stipend while in HE). So the fee regime change created a discontinuity for the Uni sector which is what Kevin exploits.
2. In absolute terms there are more students, and therefore more low SES students in HE, but we still have a situation where the relative share in University is largely unchanged. That is what the fee regime change was meant to change – it didn’t (and that is true of many countries as is the reverse – introducing does not lower participation – see Oz)
3. Dropouts are much higher in IoTs so who goes to college is a different question to who finishes college!
4. The Denny analysis is not a HEA report. It is a regression model, multivariate, controlling for many factors at the same time. That he finds such strong results is all the more depressing.
@Joanna,I don’t have much to add to Colm Harmon’s. Having said that.. my guess is that you are not familiar with the methodology behind my study and indeed all serious work in this area. Thats why you have completely misunderstood it and its relationship to the HEA reports. Did it not occur to you that you need to know what you are talking about if you are going to contradict, in public, professionals who work in this area & on an important national topic? Would you feel equally free, say, about contradicting an oncologist who produced some research on cancer? Or are we to accept lower standards of evidence? I can only infer that political expediency rather than a desire to understand the truth is behind your comment. Maybe you should consult a taxi driver.
Those HEA reports, which are invaluable & which I cite, do not allow one to identify the effect of the reform. Consequently they do not support your case. Nor do they contradict it. So you are simply unambiguously wrong as a matter of fact in inferring that the HEA reports supports your position. The O’Connell et al piece actually specifically talks about the merits of the kind of multivariate analysis that I carried out. They understand, you do not.
@Kevin, a couple of questions.
1) It strikes me intuitively that there could be an issue with multi-collinearity between the impact of socio-economic background on performance at second level and other impacts of socio-economic background that might also impact on entry to university. I imagine you have looked at this, and I’d be interested in what you have found.
2) I think Joanna’s point about the skilled manual group is important. While it doesn’t contradict your work, if both it and your work are simultaneously true it means that something quite interesting must have happened. Does your analysis gives any insights as to what this might be?
2) Skilled manual
Perhaps the construction activity allowed skilled manual group to access to 3 Level.
It may be an echo of the construction boom?
I don’t think I did contradict your study. I just provided an alternative way at looking at whether the abolition of fees led to increased participation at third level by socio economic groups that previously had low participation at third level. I am not knowledgeable in your methodology as you outline but don’t think I misunderstood the relationship of your study to the HEA reports at all. I know they are different kinds of reports that look at different evidence. However both can be used in the debate on the effect of the abolition of third level fees. In my view the HEA reports lead me to believe that the abolition of third level fees contributed to the widening of access that has occurred to third level.
I didn’t mean to contradict you in some big public way as you suggest. This is just an interesting debate on your paper on an online blog. I read your study by the way and you are right it is not a methodology I am familiar with but I still found it interesting and that it raised important issues. Isn’t good that different points of view are expressed and different information is marshalled by people to make their own particular case on the subject? I talk to lots of taxi drivers but the anecdote I prefer is the one given by former TD and Principal of Collinstown Park in Neilstown in my constituency when he was interviewed by the Irish Times last year, warned against reintroducing third level fees and stated that access to third level from Collinstown Park (in a RAPID area) increased by 500 per cent following the abolition of third level fees.
I would be interested in what you think about comment the ESRI statement in 2006, when it launched its paper, jointly carried out by the HEA ‘Who went to College in 2004?’, that participation at third level had improved accross the socio economic groups including in the Skilled manual and semi skilled manual groups that I refer to. Did that increased participation have no connection to the abolition of fees – that is a legitimate point of view I accept, but then there is the previous HEA evidence that showed 3 lower to middle income groups declining in their participation rates at third level prior to the abolition of third level fees to consider. As I outlined previously, between 1980 and 1992, the children of all but three social groups out of 11 improved their participation rate in college. The three social groups were the Lower Professional, Salaried Employees, Intermediate Non-Manual workers – all low-to-middle-income PAYE workers. The participation rate of children from the three social groups concerned not only did not improve but worsened from the years 1986 to 1992. According to the study of entrants in 1998 by the HEA ‘Who went to College in 1998′, that trend was reversed and their participation increased further in the years that followed.
@ Colm – I accept that point about Kevin’s being a study relating to the university sector but third level is much more than just the university sector and access to ITs is an important part of the picture. To my knowledge, ITs have a longer and better record of improving access to third level accross the socio economic groups than universities and there is evidence that that access started to widen significantly in ITs with the introduction of the ESF funded free courses. I do not know to what extent universities caught up with ITs in terms of widening access following the abolition of fees as the HEA reports don’t compare the two sectors. But if it is the case that University sector is less sucessful regarding access by lower socio economic groups, than ITs, then maybe questions need to be asked about what the universities need to do to rectify this situation?
I accept there may be other factors that led to the increased participation by the various socio economic groups at third level as shown by the HEA Who Gos to College Reports, but it is an important piece of information that three lower to middle income groups reduced their participation rates in third level in the years 1986 to 1992 and that that trend had started to reverse by 1998 and continued to improve up until the latest HEA study available for the years 1998 to 2004.
People need to think about the use of the term middle class by the way. Does it include those on median incomes? Free fees wasn’t a windfall for those on such incomes at all. Rather free fees meant they could financially survive and send their kids to college, whereas in the 1980s and early 1990s they were hard pressed to do so, and as per the statistics from 1986 to 1992 I have outlined some of them were choosing not to do so. Bring back fees and it will be a dangerous experiment to see who the return of third level fees will hurt the most and deter the most from going to college.
Another response in today’s Independent. ESRI’s Selina McCoy and Emer Smyth point out a number of studies they have been doing in the ESRI looking at what generates inequalities at second level. Their contribution is useful in pointing to studies we may have overlooked. But it would be interesting to see what their results imply in terms of the core question at issue here, namely who is impacted by fees.
As Kevin has less than graciously pointed out above, there is a problem here in that he is addressing a specific issue using a suitable econometric methodology whereas most of us want to discuss a whole range of issues related to college access. The issue is whether the 1996 fees change causally impacted on changing the social structure of entry into higher education. By any standard of interpreting the coefficients, it looks like it did not. You would have to say that Kevin’s paper strongly shifts the burden of proof over to the other side of that debate. Simply looking at long run increases in participation (that did not have a turning point around the time of fees) is not a legitimate argument.
Also, Kevin’s paper has technically very little to say about what would happen to middle-income households should fees return. Circumstances are very different and the data Kevin is using really doesn’t allow for simulating changes around anything but very broad socioeconomic margins. So if you are worried about what would happen to a household on 40-70k consequent on fees being reintroduced for 40k plus households then Kevin’s paper cannot speak to this. His paper does say that it would be unlikely to impact on those earning under the threshold in any meaningful sense. It would also be very unlikely to have any effect on students in very disadvantaged areas.
@ Kevin Denny
I’m a bit puzzled by Table 2 (the descriptive statistics). There seems to big a big change in the composition of the sample when switching between the baseline period and the ‘free fees’ period. Perhaps I have not read the table correctly but it looks like unskilled and manual father went from 10.1% to 54.5% (I got this by totaling the other categories and subtracting this from 1).
I was wondering if you could explain this to me.
The return of fees might have an impact on participation levels in disadvantaged areas in that it has been argued by some who have researched access to third level, that a factor in those below the grant thresholds being encouraged to go to college, is seeing their peers go to college. In disadvantaged areas some of the families are above the income limits for grants, but on low to middle incomes. If those from low to middle income families living and going to second level in disadvantaged areas were deterred from going to college because of the existence of fees that decline in participation by their socio economic group might have a knock on effect on the participation rates of those on even lower incomes in the same disadvantaged area.
It seems to me that no matter how strong the evidence the Labour party will continue to claim that ‘Free Fees’ led to some kind of signifacnt breakthrough in the university demogrpahic. This is unfortunate because it may well be the case that the new system created structural factors that cement the categories of people who make most use of our universities. I’m thinking here of the ‘diverted resources’ theory that says the fee paying classes diverted their money to private schools and grind schools the better to get ahead at entering university first place. Furthermore, it is clear now that Universities in particular have ramped up registration fees to fairly significant levels – though I gather the government has attempted to rein this in a bit.
You talk about the risk of bringing back fees. I happen to be a parent who is likely to hover just about any cut off for paying full fees. But the point is: no one I know is advocating a plain and simple return to the hideous system that was there where the grants system was so badly abused. Any new system would need to be thoroughly well thought out and is likely to have an element of grants as well as loans involved.
There are big questions about how our universities are spending their money, how their are run, and what their function ought to be. But one thing is clear: we have to strive to produce high quality research, better teaching standards, more innovation, and, one would hope, for more and more students. This will not come cheap and we should be open minded about our funding options at a time when government coffers are going to be very tight for a generation.
The Labour party will not be serving this country well if it stifles this debate in order to maintain one of the feathers it thought it had placed in its hat.
Cross posting some of this comment from the Geary Blog –
Thanks for producing this research: it’s a valaubale public service and a welcome addition to the debates on educational inequality and university finance that so often overlap on the issue of the fee-abolition that was initiated in 1996.
From a wider perspective, I would like to emphasise that, irregardless of empirical findings from within Ireland, we can also look across the water. Writing on the LSE blog, Nicholas Barr says that:
“Tax finance does not widen participation. Between 1960 and 1998, when there were no tuition fees, access hardly improved.” Here’s the link:
Barr also outlines strong theoretical arguments (again, in the post linked above), as follows:
# Taxpayer finance can harm access by leading to a shortage of places. Even without the economic crisis, universities will lose out to the NHS, nursery education and school education. And if places are short, it is predictable who gets left out.
# The people who go to university continue to be mainly from better off backgrounds. Why should the taxes of the truck driver pay for the degree of the old Etonian?
The rationale in Barr’s two points above should make it clear why fee-abolition had dubious merit.
I have discussed these ideas (and your research, Kevin) with some friends, and most appreciate the empirical result that educational inequality has not been reduced by fee-abolition. Most also see the logic in arguing that fee-abolition was:
(i) at best (sic) a subsidy to the families of the students who would go on to higher education anyway
(ii) at worst, a political strategy to win votes (which didn’t work anyway)
The question that is put to me though, is “So we re-instate higher education tuition fees, and then what? What about the people at the margin, who have the Leaving Cert. points, but whose parents have modest family-resources?”
I appreciate that the paper was not written to answer this question; but I bring it up as I see it as the next logical development in discussing university finance (after one takes the findings of your research on board).
It is probably quite clear what I am driving at: that a student loan scheme should be introduced. This would completely remove the possibility of making an argument that tuition fees might prevent someone going straight to university after school. As you know, Barr has written papers on this issue; and there is a UK scheme which is quite well designed, in my opinion.
There are some issues around loan schemes that I do think need to be discussed more. Without a securitisation-strategy (to securitise the value of future loan re-payments) being in place, then the taxpayer would still have to provide funds upfront so that universities could finance current expenditure. Furthermore, if the loan scheme is interest-free (as it is in the UK) then there is a subsidy (in relation to the time value of money) which is payed for by taxpayers.
Despite these burdens on the taxpayer (which would not occur if there was a securitisation-strategy and interest charges), there would be solace in knowing that students are more likely to achieve higher standards and receive better teaching (one could reasonably assume that these developments would benefit the wider economy). Students would achieve higher standards and receive better teaching beacuse of their awareness that they are paying for a service.
I have also discussed with friends the argument that fee-abolition eradicated the potential effects of (a social gradient in) debt-aversion. My main thought in this regard is that a well-funded Access program (which began at second-level) could eradicate debt-aversion… and well-funded Access programs are desirable in their own right. As your research shows, even if fee-abolition reduced some psychological barrier (related to a social gradient in debt-aversion), the social gradient in school performance needs to be addressed with Access programs. The most binding constraints to university attendance are matriculation requirements, and the “points” requirement.
Another point that I want to raise is the issue of retention. Hypothetically assuming that fee-abolition reduced the social gradient in university attendance (which we know it did not), what about drop-out? Getting the customer through the door is a waste of time if you cannot complete the sale. I am concerned about the social gradient in retention, but fee-abolition is irrelevant to that concern. Access programs are crucial in tackling drop-out.
Finally, as you note, there is an interesting line of enquiry as to whether fee-abolition increased the demand for fee-paying secondary schools. From today’s Irish Times: there are 26,000 students in fee-paying second-level schools paying at least €6000 per annum. This may buy a better Leaving Cert: the exam that we use to allocate places for higher education.
Joanna – There is certainly evidence in general that peer effects can influence the educational decisions of younger people. The evidence from Kevin’s paper again would suggest that this did not interact in any way with the free fees initiative.
Kevin’s paper again does not isolate what precisely caused the increase in students going to college across the socioeconomic spectrum but increasing numbers of places combined with peer effects sounds plausible. What doesn’t look plausible from Kevin’s results is a mechanism where middle class teenagers were stimulated to go to college from the reduction in price and thus stimulated working class teenagers to follow them. This is simply because the fees did not seem, in Kevin’s paper, to impact on any group at all.
I think the argument about whether fees should be reintroduced is far more complex than the argument about whether their abolition had a particular impact on lower socioeconomic groups. You could completely reject any suggestion that lower income groups benefit disproprtionately from fee reductions and still be very much in support of not reintroducing fees. We had a few of these arguments here last summer. It would be a good time to reintroduce these arguments again soon.
Putting forward arguments in favour of free fees is not stifling the debate. If anything the predominant point of view that gets publicity in the media it is the viewpoint in favour of the return of fees.
Interestingly one point of view that did get publicity though, but nothing like that given to the university heads (who on an annual basis call for the return for fees),was the view of the heads of the Institutes of Technology that it would be a mistake to bring back third level fees. The IT heads felt that the reintroduction of fees would impact badly on those students that go to ITs and the said so when they attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Science in the Oireachtas.
You, Tomaltach go further than Kevin in your point and you suggest free fees worked to consolidate unequal participation at university. However according to the HEA reports published prior to the abolition of fees the children of doctors for example had almost 100 per cent participation rate at college. They couldn’t improve on the participation rates they had prior to the abolition of fees because they were top of the participation tables at the time. Alternatively skilled manual particpation rates almost doubled after the abolition of tuition fees. I accept that the abolition of fees may not be the cause of this doubling of participation although I am persuaded that it was a factor. But even if free fees did not cause the doubling, for example of the participation at third level of the children of skilled manual workers at third level, show me the evidence that free fees have made participation at third level more unequal than it was prior to the abolition of fees.
Just to emphasise this point again – prior to the abolition of fees three social groups were found to be declining in terms of participation (1986 to 1992 – HEA/Clancy Reports) and following the abolition of fees that declining trend was reversed. It may be a coincidence but either way partipation rates at college improved. So where is the argument for bringing back fees except as a revenue raising measure underpinned by the view that third level education unlike second level should not be universally available and is a privilege and not a right.
My purpose in taking part in this discussion is not to stifle debate, nor political expediency. Labour passionately believes in the right to universal education at primary, second and third level and it is something that Labour has stood for right back to when its founder James Connolly called for free education up to the highest university grades back in 1896.
Many people claim that the extra resources made available to wealthier parents led to an increase in demand for private and grinds-type tuition, which in turn increased inequality. I have not seen concrete evidence for this. My sense is that Kevin’s results again point away from this in the sense that we should expect to see higher SES students doing better post fees when in fact we do not see any further advantage gained. This falls in line with the recent ESRI findings questioning the link between private tuition and grades.
David McWilliam’s take on the paper is below:
There is one point I want to make on your paper and forgive me if I am misreading it. I am trying my best to take it in and as I said you raise important points and make recommendations that are distinct from whether fees should be introduced or not.
Your paper demonstrates that abolition of fees made no difference as to who gets into college, in otherwords who achieves a place, having sat the exam and applied to the CAO. That is my understanding. But surely, taking a look again at the phenomenon of the three social groups that declined in third level participation rates from 1986 to 1992, the issue was those people were choosing not to go to college, as opposed to not getting a place in college. In otherwords they were choosing to go straight to a job. I was a member of the party back when fees were abolished by Labour and I remember quite clearly one of the reasons being given to Labour members for the abolition of fees was to address the declining participation of those three socio economic groups. It was perceived that the existence of fees was a financial barrier to participation by those particular social groups and that generally for low income families fees were acting as a psychological barrier to going to college.
When I researched this topic before I think the HEA themselves told me that the biggest impact on increased in participation at 3rd level had more to do with the massive increase in college places. Here’s a quote from a previous column ( I’ll include the link but its behind the pay-wall) http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0325/1224243368573.html
“In 1995 about 40% of school-leavers enrolled in higher education. In 2005 that figure had risen to 55%. That looks impressive until you realise that the 40% had jumped from a mere 25% in 1985. In other words the biggest increase in attendance in higher education occurred when everyone was broke and fees were still in place.
The increase was also facilitated by the huge expansion in college places. In 1985 there were just 55,000 places in what they call the “student stock”. In 1995 there were 95,000 and by 2005 that had risen to 135,000. More places means more students. Take into account soaring income levels during the last ten years and its hardly any surprise that participation rates increased too. Free fees help, but they are not the whole story.”
The decrease in attendance by children of non-manual labourers seems to be logically attributable to the fact that they could get jobs in the boom without the necessity of a 3rd level qualification. (but that’s speculation).
As moderator technically on this post, I don’t think Joanna is being unreasonable, overly political or trying to stifle debate and I think it is good that a TD would come on and try to argue their view.
The point about whether fees may have been targeted at a group that were declining in their participation is a relevant one. It is not precisely the focus of Kevin’s paper but it raises the possibility that a reform aimed at solving one problem may have missed its target as the group it was aimed at suddenly found itself with a lot more money and far more college places.
I think at some stage though, we are going to have to move on from arguing that free fees could possibly have impacted on the children of people who have very low incomes. Kevin has won this argument fairly and squarely. I can think of some fairly implausible behavioural reasons as to why this might have happened, but the facts look clearly like it didn’t unless someone can stand behind an analysis contradicting Kevin’s findings.
The argument about the effect of fees on middle-income families in a much worsened economic environment is still 100 per cent to play for.
There is a point to be made in response to the argument that it was extra places that increased participation as opposed to free fees. I can the see the merit of that argument but I think it is no more proved as a causal factor than free fees is, considering Kevin has pointed out I have not proved the causal connection. No one has proved the causal connection between more places and more skilled manual workers choosing to send their children to college either. Mind you the rates of participation, not just the absolute numbers, of children from lower socio economic group increased since fees were abolished and that included groups whose participation had been on the decline from 1986 to 1992 ( I know I am labouring this point on the three socio economic groups but I think it is an important one). On the other hand, if increased participation was anticipated as a consequences of free fees, surely if it was intended that that increased participation would not be at the expense of the participation of the higher income groups, then to facilitate that increased participation, more college places were necessary. I am not suggesting that the number of college places were increased because of the anticipated extra participation anticipated from the introduction of free fees but rather that increased participation and increased places would of necessity go hand in hand. Afterall ut wasn’t Labour policy to reduce the amount of wealthy people going to college, rather it was our policy to increase the amount of people from low to middle income groups going to college. And to do that required more college places in any event.
There is a point to be made in response to the argument that it was extra places that increased participation as opposed to free fees. I can the see the merit of that argument but I think it is no more proved as a causal factor than free fees is, considering Kevin has pointed out I have not proved the causal connection. No one has proved the causal connection between more places and more skilled manual workers choosing to send their children to college either. Mind you the rates of participation, not just the absolute numbers, of children from lower socio economic group increased since fees were abolished and that included groups whose participation had been on the decline from 1986 to 1992 ( I know I am labouring this point on the three socio economic groups but I think it is an important one). On the other hand, if increased participation was anticipated as a consequences of free fees, surely if it was intended that that increased participation would not be at the expense of the participation of the higher income groups, then to facilitate that increased participation, more college places were necessary. I am not suggesting that the number of college places were increased because of the anticipated extra participation anticipated from the introduction of free fees but rather that increased participation and increased places would of necessity go hand in hand. Afterall it wasn’t Labour policy to reduce the amount of wealthy people going to college, rather it was our policy to increase the amount of people from low to middle income groups going to college. And to do that required more college places in any event.
““In 1995 about 40% of school-leavers enrolled in higher education. In 2005 that figure had risen to 55%. That looks impressive until you realise that the 40% had jumped from a mere 25% in 1985. ”
Um, 25% to 40% is the same absolute increase as 40% to 55%…
Do we know anything about the income of the families of the extra 15% of school-leavers? The number of children in those families? (Were they additional children that formerly would not have been college educated?).
Do we know if the number of school-leavers was up/down/the same at the three reference points?
I’m not convinced by the argument that more chickens means more eggs, without the more eggs meaning more chickens coming first…
@ Jonna Tuffy:
“…where is the argument for bringing back fees except as a revenue raising measure underpinned by the view that third level education unlike second level should not be universally available and is a privilege and not a right…
Labour passionately believes in the right to universal education at primary, second and third level and it is something that Labour has stood for right back to when its founder James Connolly called for free education up to the highest university grades back in 1896.”
Since “universality” has been mentioned, and cited as Labour’s thematic motivation, I will argue that the “principle of universality” (in relation to access to third-level) is regressive, and that bringing back tuition fees alongside a student loan scheme is the most equitable approach. This is an argument to bring back fees to enhance equity, rather than bringing back fees simply to raise revenue.
I must begin by emphasising the imporatnce of the social gradient in Leaving Cert. (LC) performance. The reason why the social gradient in LC (school) performance is so important is that the most binding constraints to university attendance are matriculation requirements, and the “points” requirement. If you don’t have the points, you don’t get in, and I’m sure that suits some elites just fine. There is a shortage of places in university, and students compete for these scarce places based on how well they do in the Leaving Cert.
We could divert any tax money “earmarked” for “equality of access to higher education” (i.e. “free fees”) to reducing the gradient at second-level. Some money could also go towards the Access programs that start at second-level and support students from non-traditional backgrounds (sometimes without the points requirement) attending university. Radical, I would suggest, but not in keeping with the populist rhetoric of universal third-level education. However, there is a question, and this is where the student loan scheme comes in.
Q. So we re-instate higher education tuition fees, and then what? What about the people at the margin, who have the Leaving Cert. points, but whose parents have modest family-resources?
A. There should be a student loan scheme. This would completely remove the possibility of making an argument that tuition fees might prevent someone going straight to university after school.
The Irish Labour Party will argue against all of this by championing universal access to higher education, or more plainly described: “free” higher education. It’s somewhat semantic though. With a student loan scheme in place, everybody gets to go to college.
The bite is this: with a student loan scheme in place, there will be more places in higher education, and more school-leavers should also expect to qualify for higher education. And to receive higher standards of teaching when they attend higher education. Who could argue against that?
The irony is that “universally provided” (or free at the point-of-purchase) university education is regressive in a low-tax society such as Ireland’s. There is evidence that educational inequality has not been reduced by fee-abolition in Ireland (thanks to Kevin). Furthermore, fee-abolition was a subsidy to the families of the students who would go on to higher education anyway.
I quote the economist Aedin Doris, who provides a useful summary, from an earlier thread on this blog:
“In principle, I’m in favour of the return of fees – unlike second level education, not everyone can benefit from third level because there’s an ability threshold; third level education is expensive to provide and enhances the recipient’s earnings so it seems equitable that some of the earnings enhancement should be used to pay back some (but not all) of the costs of the education.”
“Many people claim that the extra resources made available to wealthier parents led to an increase in demand for private and grinds-type tuition, which in turn increased inequality. I have not seen concrete evidence for this.”
It may be possible to do an aggregate analysis on this. I would expect to see more action for full private tuition (rather than grinds) if the analysis could be done.
Re: the recent ESRI findings “questioning the link between private tuition and grades”…
The result, as I understand it, is that controlling for socioeconomic status (as well as gender) and school background substantially reduces the impact of (extra) private tuition. Full private tuition is a separate issue, and is what was mentioned in the Irish Times earlier today.
Whether or not private second-level schooling confers an advantage in the points race (and I would like to see some research on this), I think we need a real debate on whether the state should continue to pay the salaries of teachers in private schools at second-level.
This especially merits consideration since the abolition of third-level tuition fees, given the possibility that fee-abolition has seen a reallocation of family resources from university fees to second level fees.
As Niamh Bhreathnach pointed out yesterday, Labour, when it abolished fees did not see it as the single dose of medicine that was needed to widen access to third level or address inequality of outcomes in our education system. It just saw it as part, but a very important part of the picture.
During her 5 year period as Minister, as she pointed out yesterday, Niamh Bhreathnach also introduced the very type of early intervention Kevin Denny says is needed in his paper that we are discussing, namely her Breaking the Cycle and Early Start Programmes. The problem with Niamh is she doesn’t give herself enough credit. She also introduced the Leaving Certificate Applied Programme which is credited by Patrick Clancy in his ESRI/HEA Report ‘Who when to College in 2004’ as leading to more students staying on at second level to do their leaving certificate. Labour has since then developed other policies on tackling educational disadvantage that promote building on early intervention initiatives that we previously introduced and that included one years free pre school education, something that has in research been linked to better educational outcomes for the less well off in societies such as Finland. Our policy on free pre school education was copied by the other parties and a version of it has recently been introduced by the Government.
The other emphasis in our policy is that life long learning should be central to our education system and that part time students should also ultimately have free fees. The issue of access to education is not just about this year’s school leavers, it is also about those in middle age that left school in far greater numbers without even a Leaving Certificate. A model of education that did not have a one size fits all approach, and that did not all hinge on a once off chance to go to college straight from 6th year in second level might mean less pressure in terms of the points race and that in turn might improve access to third level by the less well off. A model that allowed for the fact that low income college entrants might need to work full time and study at night and not have to pay fees might also help to facilitate more children from low income families to go to college.
There are other ways to widen access and to help the less well off to go to college that can compliment the free fees initiative. That includes early intervention. It includes changing our system so that it does not all hinge on the Leaving Cert and that people have genuine second chances at going to third level. It includes a more flexible educational model that allows people move from apprenticeships to diplomas to degrees. In fact it would involve the kind of approach by universities that in fact the ITs developed over the years. In other words, if the block to universities is the points, and the shortage of places, and the points in turn are a factor of socio-economic background, rather than bringing back fees why don’t universities increase their places, or offer more courses part time, or allow more flexibility or increase places on their access programmes.
Kevin’s paper focuses on universities. Maybe it is the model of education that is a factor – it is the restricting of places for e.g. for Medicine that makes high points an issue for example. Early intervention is quite rightly identified by Kevin as part of the solution. But the other solution might be the way Universities operate themselves and that in the educational model they deliver they are excerbating the inequality that already exists in our education system.
While I would view education as the silver bullet to deal with alot of issues.. There is the danger that education is looked at in terms of the ‘more’ that is dished out the better, akin to communion at a mass.
There is a rash of unreasonable expectations placed upon third level.
One cannot talk about quantative measures without addressing qualitative issues too.
Education can only liberate potential that is already there!
Let me get a long-standing gripe out of the way first. There was one glaring and relatively small omission in Niamh’s fees abolition: evening students. They were quite simply left out of the provisions.
Who is terribly surprised that the abolition of fees did little to increase the participation of the poor in 3rd level education? Given that the poor are well behind at an early stage and then continue to lag for many, many reasons, fees are not a determining issue other than in exceptional cases. This is hardly new information. What IS current is the use of a new study, which provides valuable data, by those who want to re-introduce fees. The argument is old and it has not changed.
What usually happens at this point is that someone argues that the money spent on “free fees” could be diverted to early education. Wait, I’ve another idea and it’s just as bad: let’s abolish the (universal) drug repayment scheme and spend the money on early education. No, wait again, I’ve just thought of something more important than early education …
I’ve argued on my own blog (http://www.colummccaffery.wordpress.com) that the real beneficiaries of the abolition of fees rarely feature in these debates. My argument turns on the notion of “afford”. Before the abolition of fees many families whose children went to university certainly could not afford it. They paid but they could not afford it. There was sacrifice and a degree of poverty for at least a number of years. I sometimes wonder if those who want a return to fees – with or without loans – grasp fully that we are talking about tens of thousands of Euro.
No, I’m not supporting middle class whiners. I’m fond of attacking the term “middle class” as I’m weary of listening to rich people describing themselves as “middle income”. Making the rich pay fees will bring in very little income. (Should anyone want to debate an income level for the onset of richness, I’ll participate.) As with the savings by way of public sector pay cuts, you don’t get significant amounts of money in until you go for the relatively poorly paid because that’s where the numbers are! Sure, the reintroduction of university fees would not affect the very poor but it would very seriously affect many families who are struggling. It probably wouldn’t break them. It probably wouldn’t prevent their kids going to college. It would prevent them doing ordinary things that make life good, like taking a holiday or going out regularly. You see, when these people were relieved of the burden of fees, it was an egalitarian move.
By the way, I’m unhappy about the elitist attack above on Joanna for daring to question an expert. It was of a type with those who looked down on Niamh for using anecdotal evidence in The Irish Times. When I say that I’m unhappy with it, I certainly don’t mean that it shouldn’t be allowed. I mean that I’m worried because it reflects poorly on academic involvement in public debate.
Olive Sweetman gave me permission to link to earlier work of hers on this topic. Her conclusions are broadly the same as Kevins.
There were a few angry letters in the Independent complaining about how fees would cut off access to the poor. This really does miss the point and it is very annoying to see this being continuously trotted out. One of the letters is from an individual who grew up in a poor neighborhood and used access to college to springboard on to good career. He cites the reform as the main factor in this and states that he will be thankful till the day he dies, having a couple of pokes at the paper in the process. If he reflected for five minutes, he would realise that he would have had free fees anyway pre-1996 if he really was from a poor family background. What got him to college was the availability of a place, his meeting of the criteria and his own motivation not the reform. If it was the US and he really was very bright and poor, he would have probably gone to college with good scholarship support.
One of the letters refers to middle class bullies in rebutting Colm Harmon’s letter. Like Kevin, Colm grew up in Ballyfermot and is partly committed to this issue because he knows from experience the value of a good education for bright people from working class backgrounds. To pretend that this is what free fees is about though is dishonest and this is the main contribution of Kevin’s paper. Now that I think about it, several of us in the Institute come from very traditional working class backgrounds and were the first and only member of our extended families to attend college and do feel these issues in our bones. There is certainly no sense is which any of Kevin’s work is grounded in some toffish snobbery against working class people going to college.
This is my understanding of pre-1996:
Rich people – de facto had free fees due to tax reasons
Poor people – free fees (but there were/are other obstacles to their participation)
Middle people – paid fees
So the prediction should be increased relative participation by ‘middle people’. I don’t see how this can be regressive if we have a progressive tax system. Its transferring from the rich to the middle.
I am surprised that there is almost no price effect found. However, the social categories used are quite broad, so its hard to find out who was at the margin in terms of participation in universities. Perhaps the demand for university places is highly inelastic. I find it difficult to accept this as ITs are close substitutes for universities. Perhaps fees were only a small portion of the cost of university. This is true if you have to move city and pay rent and so on.
I think an explanation for this inelasticity is needed. If demand is very inelastic then this transfer of money to ‘middle’ people might mean that they wont have to sacrifice as much, or maybe students would not need to work part-time jobs to finance themselves. This would allow more time to study (and of course some would waste this opportunity).
Also, were fees for some courses (eg engineering) higher than others (eg Arts). Then free fees might lead to increased demand for expensive courses. This could be reflected in relatively higher points for such courses (though changes in supply will make a mess of the analysis).
“Rich people – de facto had free fees due to tax reasons”
This doesn’t sound plausible Rory. Perhaps richer people could write off at a higher rate? Anyone know the situation on this? I have to admit I am partly motivated by a desire to ensure this post lasts longer than the post about Marc Coleman’s views on academic economists, given the relative importance of the two topics.
In terms of an explanation for inelasticity, the economy was booming at the time. University education yields a high return. Unless people are constrained by cash or by credit (or by social norms – sorry I don’t full buy the neoclassical stuff!!), they will generally seek to enter or have their children enter. Kevin’s results suggests that credit constraints weren’t binding in 1995 in Ireland. Colum’s point above is a fair one. There were a group of parents who had to make big sacrifices particularly if multiple children were going to college. So the effect on their ability to maintain other commitments would be an interesting analysis. But the paper doesn’t suggest that fees were a big issue at the time in terms of access.
Liam, and Rory,
At the same time Labour abolished fees it abolished the system of covenants that allowed the rich to write off the cost of their fees. They did this in order to help fund the abolition of fees. I put a PQ a year ago about the savings to the state that resulted from the abolition of the covenants and this is the reply I got:
Dail Eireann 2 October 2008
Joanna Tuffy (Dublin Mid West, Labour)
Question 107: To ask the Minister for Finance the position regarding the abolition of certain tax covenanting arrangements that applied before the abolition of third level tuition fees; the amount estimated as saved by his Department each year by the abolition of those tax covenanting arrangements; and the amount spent on this covenanting scheme in the year that preceded the year it was abolished. [33076/08]
Brian Lenihan Jnr (Minister, Department of Finance; Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 and 107 together.
A deed of covenant is a legally binding written agreement made by an individual to pay an agreed amount to another individual, without receiving any benefit in return. To be legally effective, it must be properly drawn up, signed, witnessed, sealed and delivered to the individual receiving the payments. Any amount can be paid under a deed but only covenants in favour of certain individuals qualify for tax relief. A deed must be capable of exceeding a period of six years to qualify for tax relief.
Up to and including the 1993/94 tax year, tax relief was available to the covenanter in respect of covenants in favour of all individuals and for research, teaching of natural sciences and to certain bodies for the promotion of human rights. There was evidence that this tax relief was being abused. To curb this abuse, to stem the rising cost to the Exchequer of covenants and to help fund the phasing out of fees for third level education, this regime was phased out, for both existing and new covenants, in tax years 1994/95 and 1995/96. Since the tax year 1996/97, unrestricted tax relief can only be claimed by covenanters in respect of covenants in favour of permanently incapacitated minors (other than covenants from parents to their own minor incapacitated children) and in respect of covenants in favour of permanently incapacitated adults.
Tax relief can also be claimed by a covenanter in respect of covenants in favour of adults aged 65 or over but the amount of tax relief available on one or more covenants cannot exceed 5% of the total income of the covenanter. When paying over the monies under the covenant, the covenanter deducts tax at source at the standard rate of tax (currently 20%). A covenantee may be entitled to a refund of all, or part, of this tax where his or her tax credits reduce his/her tax liability to less than the amount of income tax deducted by the covenanter, or if the covenantee’s total income is below the applicable income tax exemption limit.
The attached table provided by the Revenue Commissioners shows the estimated cost of the tax relief in each tax year from 1993/94 to 2005. The cost of the relief dropped considerably in tax year 1996/97, the year in which certain restrictions already outlined were introduced. The Revenue Commissioners have also provided figures (rounded to the nearest hundred) for the number of taxpayers since 2000/01 claiming tax relief on covenants.
Tax year Numbers of Claimants Estimated cost of tax relief
2000/01 4,700 11.2
2001 6,100 10.2
2002 5,900 12.8
2003 6,000 15.0
2004 6,000 17.1
2005 6,100 18.9
Just another point, and since Liam would like to keep the discussion going on this blog, I notice that some people seem to class poor as being below the income limits for grants, and everyone above the threshold as either “middle class” or rich.
The grant income thresholds have improved in recent years but it is worth while those participating in this discussion informing themselves of what the income thresholds for the Higher Education Grant actually are at the link below. I also attach a further link to a blog post by Michael Taft about what a median income entails:
Another analysis that would be interesting to look at is drop-out. There are few good drop-out studies in the Irish context and the ones that exist are out-of-date at this stage. As well as drop-out, examining the effect of being relieved from frees on the grades of people in the system would go further into examining whether there were effects other than entry. One consequence of a loan-based system would that students would, of course, graduate with already up to 30k of debt, depending on their course. There are many second-round effects that may result from this.
Something that hasn’t been discussed is the benefits of subsidising 3rd level education in general. For example, in other countries (maybe Ireland too) there has been an increase in inequality due to increased returns to skill/education. If we increase the supply of graduates it should reduce the education premium and increase wage equality.
(I know this is a bit off-topic from the actual paper, but we need 5 more posts to beat the Mark Coleman thread).
As I’ve said so many times, arguing this issue in terms of its lack of effect on the very poor and the very rich at best misses the point and at worst is downright dishonest.
Let’s compose a vague picture of who will be substantially affected and then ask those who want fees reintroduced if the people in the frame are the ones who can afford to pay?
According to information supplied to me in early 2009, which likely refers to 2008, the VAST majority of public servants earn less than 60K. Let’s assume that earnings in the private sector are no better. Leave out the top and bottom and we are talking about people on about 30 or 40k a year. I normally dislike basing anything on family income but let’s say two working and bringing in 50K. That’s all very crude and it could be argued that a typical case would be up or down on that but neither objection will affect the argument very much.
If fees are to be reintroduced and if they are to bring in significant amounts, families on 50k will be paying.
Ok, so what will they be paying? Fees could be 5k or 10k. I don’t know. Let’s say 8k. As you will see, this doesn’t have to be anything like accurate to make the point.
Let’s assume the family planning was good with a three year gap between two kids who are good students, will make college and will not need repeats or want to do post grad.
That will mean our 50k p.a. family will have to find 8k each year for 6 years!
All of these assumptions/guesstimates are wide open to quibbles but move some up, move some down, allow for the grant or not, the picture won’t change very much. The reintroduction of fees will make life very hard for a lot of people.
Absolutely Colum. The proposal that Batt O’Keefe was floating last year envisioned fees being returned for parents with gross income of 100k plus. There are 70,000 university students. 100k plus is the top ten per cent of the distribution in Ireland though we do not know what percent of university sending families earn that amount. If it was 20 per cent, you still would not be talking anywhere near sufficient amount of money to replace the core block grant. If it is closer to 50 per cent then this is serious money so you could have a big impact on financing the system (including promoting low SES access) while not imposing hardship on anyone.
Another part of Kevin’s paper that needs more attention is the finding that having a parent with a disability impacts negatively on participation. It is very difficult to know what is happening there. The coefficient could be picking up a range of complex health and social factors associated with disability but it points to a potentially very important source of the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage in society.
I can take your point that “Labour, when it abolished fees did not see it as the single dose of medicine that was needed to widen access to third level or address inequality of outcomes in our education system.”
And I accept that “Niamh Bhreathnach also introduced the very type of early intervention Kevin Denny says is needed in his paper that we are discussing, namely her Breaking the Cycle and Early Start Programmes.”
However, you chose to list several Labour policies instead of responding to my argument that the “principle of universality” (in relation to access to third-level) is regressive, and that bringing back tuition fees alongside a student loan scheme is the most equitable approach. My recommendation is to divert any tax money earmarked for “free fees” to reducing the gradient at second-level. Some money could also go towards the Access programs that start at second-level and support students from non-traditional backgrounds (sometimes without the points requirement) attending university. Maybe this recommendation is not electorally palatable?
“If the block to universities is the points, and the shortage of places, and the points in turn are a factor of socio-economic background, rather than bringing back fees why don’t universities increase their places, or offer more courses part time, or allow more flexibility or increase places on their access programmes.”
The problem is that the universities are strapped for cash, the country is broke and other parts of the Education budget, quite rightly, get priority over the universities. That’s why universities don’t increase their places. They could if students contributed, and students could contribute if there was a student loan scheme.
I don’t want to keep repeating myself, but I thought I put it succintly when I argued that with a student loan scheme in place, there will be more places in higher education, and more school-leavers should also expect to qualify for higher education. And to receive higher standards of teaching when they attend higher education. I asked “Who could argue against that?”
To clarify on life-long learning, I do not advocate a model that hinges on a once off chance to go to college straight from 6th year. I think that everyone should get a chance to eneter a third-level student loan scheme, no matter how old they are. Another point that I should emphasise about the UK student loan scheme is that does not discriminate against older students to any extent. The loan scheme works as follows:
– repayments do not start until April of the year after students have completed their course
– repayments do not start until the student is earning more than 15,000 pounds
– the repayment is 9% of gross salary
– the repayment is transacted as an automatic deducation (through PAYE though this could as easily be a direct debit)
– there is no particular schedule for clearing the debt, but, if it has not been cleared 25 years after repayment began, or if the student turns 65 years old —- then the remaining debt will be cancelled
If an Irish student loan scheme operated on the principles above, then no participant in the scheme should be worried about being crippled with debts after leaving college.
I completely agree with your concerns about life-long learning. A student loan scheme should be open to all. I struggle to empathise with this comment though:
“What usually happens at this point is that someone argues that the money spent on “free fees” could be diverted to early education. Wait, I’ve another idea and it’s just as bad: let’s abolish the (universal) drug repayment scheme and spend the money on early education. No, wait again, I’ve just thought of something more important than early education”
There is an “Education Budget”. This can be spent in numerous different ways. I advocate a theme for spending decisions based on equity, as opposed to universality.
“I sometimes wonder if those who want a return to fees – with or without loans – grasp fully that we are talking about tens of thousands of Euro.”
I do. See my notes on the UK student loan scheme above.
“Sure, the reintroduction of university fees would not affect the very poor but it would very seriously affect many families who are struggling. It probably wouldn’t break them. It probably wouldn’t prevent their kids going to college. It would prevent them doing ordinary things that make life good, like taking a holiday or going out regularly. You see, when these people were relieved of the burden of fees, it was an egalitarian move.”
I really can’t empathise with this at all. With a student loan scheme in place, no families would be “broken”. When fees were removed it was not an egalitarian move. It was either intended to be progressive, or it was a cynical election strategy. Either way, it was not progressive because the concept of universality (in relation to access to third-level) is at odds with being progressive.
“What got him to college was the availability of a place, his meeting of the criteria and his own motivation not the reform. If it was the US and he really was very bright and poor, he would have probably gone to college with good scholarship support.”
I agree with that. But besides getting kids up to a successful Leaving Cert., let’s also give them access to a fairly designed student laon scheme. This would be the paragon of fairness. A student loan system eliminates the family circumstance as a concern (and re-distribution of family wealth can still be implemented through the taxation system, as the public sees fit).
*With a student loan scheme in place, no families would be “broken”. *
*With a student loan scheme in place, no families would be prevented from doing ordinary things that make life good. *
Good work everyone.
[…] 2010 Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, The Left. trackback An interesting, if dispiriting discussion on Irish Economy between Kevin Denny of the University of Kentucky (and associated, as it says on […]
Does it control for IQ
And what, pray, does IQ necessarily have to do with educational success? I’ve known many, many brilliant people who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit with academic learning; and on the reverse side I’ve known many people of lesser gifts who through hard work made it through.
@ Sarah Carey
Agreed that the prospect of avoiding four years sitting around classrooms was evidently unappealing for young people who could instead go out and work for relatively large wages, and start, well, living life.
You can’t pretend that the education budget arrives from God on tablets of stone. It is decided upon and there are opportunity costs in relation to it just as there are costs to decisions within it.
In a world in which all parents stopped behaving as parents as soon as their kids reached maturity a loan scheme might be the answer. However, the family I sketched above would react to a loan scheme like this, “Look love, we’ve been thinking about this loan business and we don’t want you up to your neck in debt when you’re only starting out. We can’t really afford it, but this is family, forget the loan we’ll find the money for university.”
The post above should have been addressed to Martin rather than Liam.
I don’t want to drag the thread off topic but I’d like to say that Batt’s selection of a 100k threshold is revealing. It suggests that Batt feels that the well off who can afford to pay start at 100k.
One reason why the fees debate is sometimes confusing is because there is insufficient clarity more generally about the role (or lack of it) for universal benefits in this setting. I have just blogged on this, here:
Ferdinand raises the core issue here – do you believe in universalism when it comes to education or do you believe means testing for a threshold above which your charge fees.
These two approaches really are poles apart. Means testing is a barrier to achieving benefits even for those that would meet the means testing. That is why many families that are entitled to the Social Welfare Payment FIS (Family Income Supplement) are not claiming that particular benefit. That is probably why the person that wrote in to the Irish Independent yesterday perceived that fees would be an obstacle poorer families from sending their children to college. Means testing means leads to unfairness to whoever ends up just on the wrong side of the thresholds. Means testing leads to stigmatising of those that get the benefits and resentment by those who do not. Means testing and charging for fees is a barrier to third level education but not the only barrier, and that is the point that perhaps is missed by those that argue that fees made no difference, despite evidence to the contrary.
Ireland should be moving to more universalism, not rolling back on the very limited universal provision we already have. Countries that have more income equality do better accross a range of indicators. They live longer, they have lower crime levels, they have less teenage pregnancy, they protect their environment more, and they perform well in measurements of educational attainment. It is notable that many of the countries that have more income equality have more universally provided benefits than Ireland, and that includes in Education, and that includes countries such as Sweden, one of the most equal countries, in terms of the gap between rich and poor, in the world. And the other side of the coin is if we want to see more equality in education then we need more equality in our economy and society as a whole and bringing back third level fees will not lead to more income equality in this country.
Kevin Denny in his paper is right on his recommendation that early intervention is a key, but it is early intervention in a much more fundamental way than many seem to think. It is not just handouts but a fundamental redistribution of wealth in our society, that abolishes tax breaks for the wealthy, and taxes people according to their income, or otherwise reduces the gap between rich and poor, rather than an approach that begrudges those on middle incomes sending their children to college.
I attach our most recent policy document promoting our decision to abolish fees ‘Keeping the Gates Open’ here:
Ferdinand, do you have any explanation as to why a number of university heads regularly call for the charging of their students to go to college and yet the Institute of Technology heads warned against charging their students fees when they discussed the matter with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science? Why that gulf in opinion about charging for third level education between the two sectors? And why do you think second level should be free and third level not?
Now that my non-middle class credentials have been established – my mum, by the way, is really enjoying finally being seen as middle class! – I have to say that I am enjoying this debate as it plays out. Keep it up – it is very important (and well moderated, Liam).
Let me summarize my view. I think the following:
1. The abolition of fees in 1995 did nothing to change the representation of lower SES in the University sector. That is not the be all and end all of higher education, admittedly. But it is the point of comparison that is related to the policy changes (which impacted the Unis) and as such, as a straight statement of policy effectiveness with no other value judgement imposed, it failed. At one level that is what the Denny work, and that of Olive Sweetman etc, shows. QED.
2. A lot of what has been discussed thereafter actually goes off the track of that fact and of what these series of papers demonstrate – which is fine but worth debating. I think the supply of HE places, and the increase in the cohort size, means that more lower SES children are in HE – fantastic. But more are in IoTs mainly, and more drop out or don’t complete (lets research that too), and tiny amounts are in the professional disciplines like Law or Medicine etc. Social mobility is not happening at that level and I strongly encourage folks to look at something I had the great pleasure to be an advisor on – the UK social mobility white paper (Getting On Getting Ahead – find it here – http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/66447/gettingon.pdf) for an example of a lifecycle framework that is (a) about opportunity and mobility but (b) about productivity and output.
3. All this really says is that if we believe that there are bright kids out there who are not going to Uni (and I do believe that) then this type of policy based on funding will not encourage them. I am not trying to be flippant but money is not the issue here. It is much harder than money. The issue of money only matters when you get to the point where you are competing for a place in University and for a large cohort that is just not happening.
4. @Joanna raised the point of what the Uni’s could do about this. The answer is (1) little given the CAO system is blind and (2) what little they can do given (private) investment in access programmes have been very successful. Ironically, fee income from those that pay would allow the University sector to do more on that front! Stuff we are working on here shows clearly that the socioeconomic gradient does not translate into grades in University – so the Uni treatment does a good job at leveling the pitch. It is the entry that is the problem.
5. As an aside – I am a fan of the progression pathway from IoT to Uni’s etc. I think that the IoT’s evolution into degree programmes has provided a substitute not a complement to that pathway. And perhaps (I don’t know the facts) the Uni and IoT could work better together than they do. Regardless – I think that a pathway to, say, a Law Degree for a low SES youngster that takes a long and tortured road through an IoT degree programme first is perhaps a bigger disincentive than fees are…..remember the basic problem I stated in my Indo Op-Ed is that you are trying to change the way youngsters (and parents) value the future over the present and something that says ‘sure, you will do less well in the Leaving because your school ain’t so hot but you can go to an IoT, do something there for three years, and if you perform well we will let you go to UCD’ is both mildly insulting and unlikely to do the trick.
So now what?? Well, I think:
6. Bringing back fees is not a symmetric argument to what happened when you abolished them. The fact that abolition did not change low SES behaviour is not the same as saying that bringing them back won’t have any impact. How, and under what structure, you do this will be critical, particularly in a recession period. This, I hope, is what the Hunt Review of Higher Education recognises. If we are planning what seemed to be planned under then Minister O’Keefe, would have been a very very blunt. We need careful debate on the ‘how’.
7. Finally, I always end up feeling irritated by the whole debate about fees, grants and parental income. These are young adults. We need to ensure equality of opportunity (and ambition) to admit them to HE, and we need to then look at how they finance themselves. Grants, Loans, Access Programmes all form part of that process but for the student not the parent. It is a total red herring to say that because your family earns 100k you will face fees and if they don’t you won’t. All students should face fees, institutions should be free to decide on what they should be even perhaps varying by course (perhaps subject to some cap as in the UK), and an infrastructure is in place to pick up on the funding issues through loans and grants for those that need them. We need to get the point across that all can go, needs blind, and if you need help we will give it to you. That, in my mind, is more powerful than a system that sort of has the issues of how much my parents have available hanging about like a bad smell from the time the prospective students hits secondary school.
Hope that helps give a sense of what I think on this. If you don’t agree, I will talk to some of my old school friends in Ballyer and you can expect a knock on the door….
This is more or less a copy of a post to Ferdinand’s blog:
The argument against “free fees” is essentially that the money would be better concentrated on the few poor rather than wasted on the well off who can afford to pay. The problem with the argument is that it doesn’t address the real world.
Sure, there’s been enormous progress since the early 20th century but we’ve not reached the kind of society sketched by Ferdinand
We don’t live in a society where 80% can afford to pay. I’ve argued Time and again that “afford” needs to be examined. (My original piece can be found down quite a way on my blog.)
I’m certainly not defending the interests of middle class whiners or rather rich people pretending they are middle income. Let’s SCREAM this: There are very few people on 100k +. Making them pay won’t do the trick. Because the majority of people are not well paid, you will have to ask people on half that or less to find fees of several thousand euro per annum. Yes, they will find it but they won’t have a holiday and they won’t go out very much.
If you’d like to cement your credentials, I’ll discuss this with you at halftime in Richer on June 8th.
Whats with the IOT bashing?
“Ironically, fee income from those that pay would allow the University sector to do more on that front!”
Really? A benevolent government is going to let the University sector keep all the funding it currently gets AND the new fees in the midst of a fiscal crisis? I find this laughably naive, even as an aside.
The government will introduce fees so it doesn’t have to raise taxes on higher earners as much. The redistributive effects of even means-tested fees would be dwarfed by the wealth effects of lower marginal tax rates. Universal payments are redistributive as they tax proportionally from the rich (through income tax) and give equally to all (so are cheap to administer… well, should be anyway!).
As someone who went to university in the early-mid 90s…
Here’s what was wrong with the grant system:
1. Operated by local authorities which was administratively inefficient and led to different payment schedules for classmates based on which LA they applied to.
2. Thresholds not properly indexed – there was an uplift in 1994-5 I think as I got fees-only payment for the last two years of undergrad. The previous years I had a 12.68% credit union loan but I had classmates paying AIB nearly 20%. Those were the days.
3. PAYE workers hammered since it basically operated against gross income.
4. Many people eligible for the full fees+grant still couldn’t go to college as the amounts were unrealistically low particularly in university towns with high living costs.
Free fees did not solve many of these problems. The lifting of thresholds, payment levels and fixing of eligibility assessment would have solved far more problems but would not have benefited the people the champagne socialists were chasing and would not have created the same “splash”.
We should also stop referring to the current regime as “free fees”. The registration and other charges universities levy now are mostly on items which are not frills or options (such as exam fees). Universities were always free to charge for repeat exams or losing your ID card, but if you don’t pay something and you are prevented from taking your course or receiving your degree – IT’S A FEE.
The proposal by UCC to charge graduates to shake their President’s hand is not a fee, it’s optional. Hopefully when they hang a portrait of said gentleman in the college they will put it in a room where you also have to pay a charge to look at it – it would be only fitting.
I think the far more pressing problem in Irish universities is admission, especially given a horizon of declining funding and likely cuts in staff and capacity. It should be tougher to get into universities so that lecturers can get on with teaching and not remedial education, but at the same time the race for maximum points is corrosive and simply enriches the owners of grind schools.
If I had the power to do so I would set a ceiling points level in the upper 500s and simply instruct CAO to admit randomly above this level for ALL courses including med, vet, etc. since the financial ability to grind/repeat your way above this level should not be disproportionately rewarded. (See McWilliams’ article above)
At the lower level, I would instruct HEA to examine MINIMUM course requirements in all courses and get the universities to set realistic ones. I find it bizarre that, for instance, you can study Chemistry at my alma mater with a LC consisting of a few humanities subjects and applied maths.
Interesting report and with regard to your last sentence:
“One thing that is clear is that there are different domains of disadvantage and some of them may not be obvious”.
Do you think that innate disillusionment among bright, creative students of all socio-economic backgrounds with the generally impractical rote-learning nature of the Leaving Cert is one of them?
What are the opinions here of the education system in Iceland?
It is much more gradational than what we have here. As a youth leader in Dublin for many years it is blatantly obvious the effects the Leaving Cert has on areas such as sports where participation rates drop dramatically and a predictable spiral into excessive social drinking occurs in rites of passage such as the Junior/Leaving Cert celebrations and the Debs.
In Iceland, they have a mixture of low interest student loans and heavily subsidised education with more gradual steps along the way. Is this a good role model?
@Joanna. I don’t mean to be disrespectful or patronising, but what you say about universalism is very old-fashioned socialism, and has increasingly been questioned by social democrats and socialists in some other countries.
In relation to higher education, the evidence doesn’t back what you say. If you were right, then with free fees far more people from the lowest income groups should have come into HE. They haven’t. The very small increase that has occurred is almost entirely due to the universities’ own access programmes (which are not state-funded), and which as it happens have a means test approach.
I do acknowledge that middle income groups have benefited, but as I have said in my blog it seems absurd to suggest that we need to throw lots of money at wealthy people in order to get some more middle income people into the system. They should be targeted much more directly.
The IOTs don’l like fees because they believe – wrongly, I think – that they would be disadvantaged vis-a-vis universities.
If as the HEA found in its study of 2004 College applicants that the skilled manual socio economic group almost doubled its participation to a range of 50-60% in 2004 compared to 32% in 1998, that is hardly a very small increase as you suggest.
And then there is the point made earlier, that according to the HEA in its previous studies that between 1980 and 1992, the children of all but three social groups out of 11 improved their participation rate in college. The three social groups were the Lower Professional, Salaried Employees, Intermediate Non-Manual workers – all low-to-middle-income PAYE workers. The participation rate of children from the three social groups concerned not only did not improve but worsened from the years 1986 to 1992. According to the study of entrants in 1998 by the HEA ‘Who went to College in 1998′, that trend was reversed and their participation increased further in the years that followed. In otherwords, those three income groups not only improved their participation rates after the abolition of fees, they went from declining participation rates to increasing participation rates.
As for the social democrats questioning the model of universalism that is according to you one for old fashioned socialists (which I confess I am one), that model of universalism is the very one delivered by social democrats, like for example the Social Democrats of Sweden, which still even with the Social Democrats out of power, has free third level education. And it has a lot more we in Ireland should aspire to too, thanks to their social democratic version of good old fashioned socialism.
Your point about IOTs is interesting. Maybe though it is because they also have the interest of their students at heart.
76 comments. “Whispering” Ted Lowe, the great snooker commentator of the 80s, is coming to my mind. Though he always cautioned against calling a century break too early.
The Cedar Lounge blog picks up on this thread also. Kevin is put down as affiliated with the University of Kentucky. This is correct as he is currently on sabbatical there but is normally of UCD. It is also true that he is affiliated with the Institute of Fiscal Studies but characterising IFS as a right-wing think thank is not very sporting. In general, everyone seems to be having problems with the idea that although there has been a long run increase in the absolute number of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds attending college (though not relative share) that this trend did not change at all around the time the fees were introduced. Until we either fully accept Kevin’s findings on this or find a good reason to reject them, then we are all going to be talking past each other.
The author more or less implicitly recognises this point by shifting the debate onto how a culture of college attendance embeds itself in working class communities. Amen to that. That is what most of this post is about. It just doesn’t seem that they way to do this is by offering free fees to higher income groups. A later post on the best way of promoting college participation will be forthcoming at the appropriate juncture.
The point is that that trend did change as evidenced by the HEA statistics. Kevin’s paper is looks at universtity applicants, and he only does it as an economist. A sociologist might produce a different paper on the same issue (whether the abolition of fees made a difference in terms of participation) and come to a different conclusion to Kevin. As someone said above two pieces of information can be true even if pointing to different conclusions.
I do not reject his findings what I do not accept is his conclusion that that the abolition of fees made no difference to the participation rates of lower income groups at college. You can say that the reason the percentage of the children of skilled manual workers almost doubled between 1998 to 2004 as being caused by the increase of third level places. However it is the percentage not just the absolute numbers of those children of skilled manual workers increased. And then again there are those three low to middle income groups who against the otherwise trend of increasing participation rates of all other socio economic groups, including the most disadvantaged, that declined in their participation in the 6 years prior to the abolition of fees, who then reversed that decline and had a continuing increase in participation at third level after fees were abolished. Kevin does not examine that phenomenon, naturally, as it was not within the remit of his paper.
I do not take an offence at Kevin’s comment to me above. I bat for Labour. As a politician that is what I do. You develop a thick skin, and that is what politics is about – standing for something and being prepared to defend it when needs be, particularly if you feel passionately committed to a particular policy of your party. But there is Kevin makes a point elsewhere on this debate (on Ferdinand’s blog) that he is all for open debate, as long as it is informed debate. But we can’t all be economists and I do not have the time right now to study for a degree in the subject. But an open and informed debate can include lots of different information, that can lead to different conclusions, and still be true, and it can include opinions, idealism and even anecdotes about taxi drivers and all of those inputs can help shed light on a subject, and help inform where we go next in relation to the provision of free education to our children.
Sorry about the typos by the way. It would be good to have a preview option here so that you can do so before you submit a comment.
I agree and have said above that your contribution on this post is well within any normal definition of informed debate. In fact, we have probably used this post as well as any I have been involved in to make sure all the different sides have got a hearing.
The evidence in Kevin’s paper, to repeat, indicates that the trend did not change when the fee initiative was introduced. The evidence you have been giving only shows longer run trends that are not inconsistent with Kevin’s findings but in no way point to a causal effect of the abolition of fees. This is not a very technical point. You simply have to show that something changed “because of” the 1996 initiative and not simply as a continuation of an underlying trend that was happening due to increased places and growing levels of wealth and other non-fee factors. Anecdotes and other information can be useful for illustration but for policy, the key issue is what the actual effect was not what some people remember it to be due to their idiosyncratic personal experience and the people with PhDs wandering around claiming otherwise are a menace to honest policymaking in Ireland. This is one for a wider discussion but we are not going to get far in linking policy and academia if politicians take flight into anecdotes when the evidence gets tough for them. Nor will we get very far if academics start hurling insults when they are questioned on their findings.
There may be other critiques of Kevin’s findings. For example, no-one has asked about the response rates to the surveys, any measurement problems and so on. We haven’t even really asked Kevin how sensitive his results are to alternative statistical specifications. The fact that Olive Sweetman’s results are so similar is in some way reassuring. But on an issue this important, replications with different data would be a good thing.
@ Liam Delaney
“Until we either fully accept Kevin’s findings on this or find a good reason to reject them, then we are all going to be talking past each other. ”
I don’t think that is really fair. You make the point about response rates etc. No research is perfect. I accept that the paper is evidence against free fees having an affect, but it isn’t a smoking gun.
Things that go against the research are that the social groupings are too broad, and I don’t like Probit models. Probit assumes a symmetry of a treatment that is the same for those very likely and those very unlikely to go to college. I’d prefer something non-parametric. But it would be unfair to be overly critical when he isn’t here to give reasons for his specifications and so on.
[A bit off topic, but it would be nice if there was a forum where people could post their working papers and then get constructive feedback from others.]
I think be critical Rory. I’m sure Kevin would welcome criticisms of that nature. Hope of a century break aside, we are probably well passed the point were anyone is reading this anymore.
It is a useful question as to whether probit is the right specification. If a less restrictive specification completely changed the results then the paper would be less of a “smoking gun”. Kevin himself has written papers using this type of reasoning in the past. I have also a question as to whether leaving cert points should be in the main specification. There is a case to be made that it hoovers up too much variance as it correlated with many other things. I think there is a case for looking at a specification where LC points are ommitted. If Kevin’s argument is correct, this should not impact on the interaction terms (though it would of course have an impact on the main effects of SES).
I wont get too bogged down in a particular phrase but I stand behind the idea that Kevin has shifted the burden of proof. No paper is perfect and certainly no paper is beyond debate but sometimes papers do shift our thinking or else we are really wasting our time.
If someone did a thorough analysis of the HEA data and demonstrated that there was indeed a shift post-1996 and not just a trend continuation, then this would point the burden back to the other side as the HEA data should be better quality. But the authors of that report did not claim that and Joanna’s argument does not make the case that you would need to make. To be honest, Kevin and Colm both have convinced me (from an initially reluctant starting position) that bring back fees at about an 80k threshold and ploughing the money into really correcting early disadvantage would be a good thing to do. Though this is not neccesarily the correct way of framing the choice (why not free frees and lots of money on early disadvantage), so lets have that debate properly soon.
The progressive economy website has a short discussion of the paper.
Shane O’Mara from TCD points also to the paper and includes a number of links.
Surely my whole point is that it was not a trend continuation.
I repeat that for the 12 years pre 1998 all socio-economic groups improved their participation rate for the previous twenty years bar three lower to middle income groups that stayed static in terms of their participation rate for 6 of those years and for the 6 years 1986 to 1992 declined their rate of participation at college. The declining trend did not continue post the abolition of fees, rather it was reversed and turned into increasing participation rates.
You ask an interesting question above. You ask wehter the leaving certificate should be the main specification. Now not being familiar with the model, I thought of that question too and I would add the point in that regard that not all people that get the points actually go to college. And that was more the case surely when less people went to college, And anecdotal and all that what follows is, I distinctly remember girls that left school with me in the 1980s, of lower middle income backgrounds to my knowledge, getting places in college, but declining those places and taking the job they applied for and were offered, straight out of Leaving cert instead. I meanwhile, though my parents struggled, went to college, probably partly because, my father having been the only one to go to college of his family, my mother having left school at 14, there was an expectation that I and our siblings would, like my father, go to college. Plus he was a lecturer in a third level college, DIT, Kevin Street. Fees did not stop me, and family expectation made me. However in my peers case there was no expectation due, I imagine in large part du to lack of family history, and that those girls faced with parents struggling with fees versus being able to contribute to the household income via a job in the civil service/credit union, they chose the less financially straining route for their parents of not going to college despite getting the points and instead took that clerical job at aged 18.
Let’s take your first point. The O’Connell et al report certainly does find increases in skilled manual participation between 1998 and 2004 that are greater than non-skilled manual, which taken on its own is consistent with but does not demonstrate an effect of fees. Taken on its own, it is stronger than a general rise because this is the group you would expect to be impacted by fees. The problem is that Kevin’s paper finds that this is not something that had a turning point in 1997. The decline 87 to 92 is not immediately relevant. The main issue is whether participation rates were picking up post 92 anyway. You say static but is there a concrete reference that participation rates were static for these groups from 92 to 97? If this is really the case, then you have a more concrete argument than if it was increasing anyway. If this is the case, then there is an issue of how to reconcile this with the flat rejection of this idea in the data Kevin is using.
Your own post above says that most of the action had occurred by 98, which itself is not conclusive either way but would probably be bad for your idea! If anyone has just graphed the probability of attending college by SES on an annual basis please enlighten us as it would at least finish this part of the debate. Remember Joanna, I am just keeping the debate going here and I am correct to say that Kevin has given his evidence clearly. Someone on the other side needs to give theirs and I dont believe you have done that yet.
We could call it quits alternatively for now and give people time to go back to the HEA data so we are not speaking in the dark. I have to say the variation in participation among the skilled manual group is something you have made me think about more than before I embarked on this experiment in direct post participation. But you haven’t convinced me at all that this was due to fees. Believe me, I will not stick to my guns out of bias if it turns out you are actually right.
Actually, I missed the obvious trick point out by other posters also that the HEA report refers to higher education more broadly rather than just the universities so this is an added source of confusion.
For a summary of this thread:
Read todays Times!!!
They could at least have provided a link!
Fair and balanced article. Capturing the key points succinctly.
After reading it, I wonder if the legitimate debate of ‘who pays’ is distracting from an equally important question ‘how much does it cost’.
Because, how much it costs, will have to be taken in by the particular institute from ‘whoever’!
It is a hollow victory for the ‘free fees’ considering the 1-2K a year in registration costs or whatever name be put on it.
Further, a cost analysis could focus on whether increased or decreased numbers, points, etc, and more importantly establish some model of identifying irregularities, defects, etc.
It seems like we will settle for a third level educational system ala HSE because we wont pay for what we want and may or may not be able to afford it!
A question in relation to “skilled manual participation”.
Does the HEA figure include apprentices going through Phase 4 and 6 of their apprenticeship in the IOTs around the country.
Considering the construction boom rise in apprentice numbers and their percolation through the IOT’s, they may be a part of that figure?
I was being a tad sarcastic. The article raises a lot of important issues but the stuff about Moore McDowell is a little off-the-point. Moore is retired at this stage and entitled to do whatever he wants in mid-May.
This is a link to the 2004HEA report (published 2006) here:
What is says is “The focus of this report is on new entrants to higher education in Ireland in 2004. New entrants to higher education are defined as first-time undergraduates in the first year of study in full-time higher education in the Republic of Ireland…Higher education: is defined as courses offered in recognised higher education institutions (hence Post-Leaving Certificate courses, which are delivered through the further education sector, are excluded) and which normally demand a minimum entry requirement of a Leaving Certificate with at least grade D in five subjects (almost all colleges admit some mature students who may not have reached these required educational credentials).”
The bulk of the change in the three declining group looks like it happened in the 1998 to 2004 period.
There is another point made in the 2004 report that is relevant to the debate:
it says it is apparent that those social class groups displaying improvements in their retention levels since 1998 ar those groups with greatest levels of participation in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme (unskilled manual, semi-skilled manual and other agriculture). It then goes on to say that this suggests the Leaving Certificate Applied that improvements in retention levels are to some extent being achieved because of through the provision of and participation in the Leaving Certificate Applied. However, it points out that the HEA report does not factor in the students going to college via the Leaving Certificate applied as those students that take the Leaving Certificate Applied are not eligible for direct entry into higher education. Nevertheless, according to the researchers, Philip J. O’Connell, David Clancy and Selina McCoy, state in the report that notwithstanding such growth in LCA participation, students from semi-and unskilled manual backgrounds have made important and positive gains in their rates of completion of second level relative to other social groups.
The point I am highlighting here is, and Kevin can correct me if I am wrong, which I could be, is that there are also implications for Kevin’s paper that the Leaving Certificate Applied students would not be part of the points race, nor gain admission via the CAO? Ditto the students (there may be overlap of course) that gain admission via access programmes, and other modes of progression, to third level that happen post Leaving certificate?
I am not contradicting Kevin’s findings just the conclusions (that fees did not increase participation rates of those other than the wealthy) on the basis of the following aspects that are not, as far as I can make out considered by Kevin’s paper: –
1.The paper does not consider the issue of those with the points that do not go to college and why
2.it excludes ITs (and by the way, contrary to what some seem to believe from the comments above, and something that I am aware of from working in the Registrations office in DIT Bolton Street when the ESF funding was in place was that many IT students did not have free fees pre abolition of tuition fees – degree courses in Bolton street were not covered by the ESF funding, for example)
3. It excludes those that gain entry via access programmes
4. It excludes those that gain entry via other modes of gaining entry to university courses.
Finally, Kevin’s research is only one way of looking at the issue, using the model concerned. It is not a sociological study for example that might lead one to different conclusions.
5. It excludes those gaining entry to college via the Leaving Cert Applied
Ok, let’s assume that “free fees” had absolutely no effect on poor people. Assume that not one extra poor person has gone to university. That is not sufficient reason to reintroduce fees.
If the great majority of students were from rich families and if they were made to pay fees, the money so raised would fund the universities. Problem: the students from rich families are in a minority and the fees they would pay would go nowhere close to funding the universities. The only way to raise that kind of money is to charge the majority – not the rich, not the middle class – the majority.
Those who argue for the reintroduction of fees should talk about income figures and stop the airy-fairy stuff about “the well off”, “those who can afford to pay”, “the middle class”. How much would each student have to pay? (Now, let’s not have any messing about over tuition fees vs. registration fees. It’s the total amount a student would have to pay.) And who could be said to be able to afford it?
“Finally, Kevin’s research is only one way of looking at the issue, using the model concerned. It is not a sociological study for example that might lead one to different conclusions.”
I really cannot give you that one Joanna. It is a dreadful last resort peddled usually by people not nearly as resourceful as you in arguing their point fairly. Let’s keep to the interesting and vital points that you are raising and keep a clean argument going. Usually the “well thats an economics perspective” means something like “the facts disagree with me but I will find someone who has done some focus groups and come up with a nice conclusion that I like”. By the way I respect a lot of qualitative research but methodologies like that cannot answer these types of questions, as honest proponents of them would happily admit.
I don’t see any of the four points you raise as being crucial here. We have already dealt with the IT issue. It would be interesting but this is not the point of the paper. Yes, it does consider those who do not go to college but do have the points. According to Kevin’s paper, this happened just as frequently after fees abolition came in. Access programmes and other modes are not important for the 1996 debate. The Leaving Cert Applied stuff is definitely a red herring with respect to the 1996 debate.
The issue of the HEA data seems potentially a better route if anyone wants to put up a more robust defence of the fees abolition. We still haven’t cleared up the issue of the different socioeconomic trend lines. Anyone willing to give a hand on this?
Colum, your point is not a bad one and we had a thread before on reintroduction of fees. It is hard to keep the issue separate from the issue of whether the abolition succeeded (indeed I strayed myself a couple of times). When we come back to asking should we reintroduce fees, we will have a lot more to consider than just whether the 1996 policy worked.
I did a few fast searches thru the document.
It does not mention the words apprentice or craft.
Apprentices are registered as full time students, entitled to ID cards and also entitled to represent the Institutes in sporting events like the Siegerson and Fitzgibbon cubs, much to the dissapointment of the Universities!!!
Presumably, the distinction wouldnt have been made to the researchers.
It’s impossible to make such a distinction. The entire thread is focussed on the use to which the study is put.
At what did the abolition of fees succeed? Because we all know that deprivation is complex, no one thought that “free fees” would result in lots of poor people going to college. Finding that it didn’t do this is interesting but hardly crucial and certainly not a reason to reintroduce fees.
The Leaving Certificate Applied is relevant or why else do Philip J. O’Connell, David Clancy and Selina McCoy, state in their 2004 HEA report, that the absence of the Leaving Certificate Applied from their analysis “has important implications” for their analaysis? Don’t forget a key point is that the points are a factor and the evidence that those in the lowest socio economic group are less likely to get the points. The Leaving Certificate Applied was established by Niamh Bhreathnach to help those people that couldn’t get the points, to have an alternative way of completing their education and for some to proceed to further education and third level.
The exclusion of Institutes of Technology is relevant because as Kevin himself points out in 2004 ITs accounted for 42 per cent of new entrants to higher education and as I have pointed out many students in ITs did not get free fees under the ESF fund, including DIT degrees and for example the course my sister studied, the Diploma in Architectural technology.
The exclusion of those that progressed through alternatives to college, such as PLCs etc, is relevant because those people might have lost out on the points but may subsequently have gone to college and may have been partly influenced to do so because fees were no longer in place.
There is a danger that the lack of distinction between student/apprentice in the HEA study negates your point about free fees.
It seems like there was no distinction within the report.
Prudence would dictate it be clarified.
“It is impossible to make such a distinction”. Its quite an important distinction and one that I haven’t been careful enough in making myself. The extent to which we can draw from the evidence of past reforms to guide thinking on future reforms is one of the central questions of economics and economic policy. Much of the debate here is focused on the “what was the result” question rather than what will be the result. Let’s not split hairs too much on this though. Both questions are interesting. You say that “no one thought that “free fees” would result in lots of poor people going to college.” I think many people did and judging by this post many people (including potentially the people that will be in charge of education policy in a few years time) continue to do so. I absolutely agree with you though that we cannot use Kevin’s study in itself as a motivation to bring back fees. It does remove one of the motivations not to bring back fees, namely the believe that abolishing impacted positively on poorer students participation. The way you are framing the debate in terms of potential revenue raised and the affordability issues for middle-income families is a better way of thinking about what is at stake in this debate.
@Joanna, there is nothing that you have said about LCVP, the IOTs, Access Programmes and so on that leads me to doubt Kevin’s conclusions.
“If you were right, then with free fees far more people from the lowest income groups should have come into HE. They haven’t. The very small increase that has occurred is almost entirely due to the universities’ own access programmes (which are not state-funded), and which as it happens have a means test approach.”
Given that I am spending a lot of time asking people to back things up on this thread, this doesn’t sound right as a claim. I will have a closer look myself later but surely this is overstating the case, or at least working a little with the idea of “lowest income group”.
His conslusions include the statement:
“The only obvious effect of the policy was to provide a windfall
gain to middle-class parents who no longer had to pay fees”
The fact that his study does not include LCA (not LCVP by the way), the IOTs, Access should lead you to question the above conclusion because he is ignoring the full complement of third level entrants.
By the way, he also says in his report that ” Indeed while the absolute numbers from low SES groups rose, as a share they remained constant”
The HEA authors, Clancy, McCoy and O’Connell have a different take on that and state ” The distribution of new entrants to higher education in 2004 by socio-economicbackground is broadly similar with the distribution in 1998. However, the analysis of participation rates by socio-economic group shows that there is evidence of a trend toward improved equity of access to higher education.”
The HEA report is based on surveys of first year, first time, undergraduates. It does not include apprentices.
Hmm…I think we might be getting to a close here. A 147 is not likely.
@Joanna – still no idea why IOTs are relevant here to a study of removing fees for university and we are heading now to a position where nothing is going to be gained on debating this further without more data thrown into the mix.
I have already agreed partly with you that someone needs to look in much closer depth at the trends from the HEA data. The Clancy et al findings as they stand do not support your position but they do not prove you wrong either.
The conclusion Kevin and others are drawing is that free fees “was just a windfall for the “middle class” (not sure who he includes in that description mind you considering it is not a socio economic grouping studied by his paper).
Kevin’s paper in turn is being used by others to make the case for the return of fees for all colleges and in his conclusion above he does not say fees were a windfall for “the middle classes” that attend university. Institutes of Technology are relevant to the debate because as he points out himself they accounted for 42 per cent of new entrants in 2004.
ITS are also relevant because if they showed a different result to what Kevin finds from the universities, then the model of education universities provide, and their higher reliance on limiting entry to courses by high points/less places, might need to be looked at as a factor as to the apparent lack of effectiveness of free fees on participation by lower Socio Economic groups in university.
And again there is the question you asked about whether Leaving Certificate should be the main specification. And then there are the questions I raise about the fact that Leaving Cert Applied, access students, and those that progress via other means than straight from school are not included. All of those people, many being from the lower socio economic groups, are relevant to study and debate regarding the question of whether free fees contributed to improved participation by the various socio economic groups at third level, including universities, or not.
By the way I like your last point. Think I am getting somewhere.
The points you make move us away from the effect of the 1996 reform and toward the potential return of fees. I am thinking of how to craft a post on this that allows us to move on from this current part of the debate and on to the question now facing policy. I think the publication of the Hunt report will help to do this.
Just a few quick points:
“Ferdinand raises the core issue here – do you believe in universalism when it comes to education or do you believe means testing for a threshold above which your charge fees.”
You frame the way forward as a binary choice, but many things are possible, including the introduction of a student loan scheme. In fact, it has come to my attention that there was an obituary in the Irish Times last weekend about Tony Barlow: “The Financing of Third Level Education in Ireland (published by the ESRI, authored by Barlow) reviewed the equity and efficiency of systems of third-level educational finance and in particular looked at a scheme of student loans which would be repayable through the income tax system… his ground-breaking contribution in this area was acknowledged by Prof Bruce Chapman, a leading educational economist in Australia.”
“The HEA report refers to higher education more broadly rather than just the universities so this is an added source of confusion.”
It has not been remarked by anyone that the HEA ‘surveys of new entrants’ are selected samples. That is, they only include individuals who have successfully progressed to third-level. What about individuals that had certain characteristics but didn’t progress to third-level?
Kevin’s paper (which addresses the universities) adds a lot of value because he uses the School Leavers’ Survey. This means that Kevin’s probit (by now one of the most talked about in Ireland) compares those who make a transition to university vis a vis those who do not. The absence of compromising ‘sample selection’ in Kevin’s work (as well as the fact that he focuses on universities) does not make for easy comparison with the HEA surveys of new entrants.
There is also a point to be made to the effect that Kevin’s work is based on multivariate statistical regression, where the effect of social background is one variable in a wider specification. Only descriptive statistics can be produced using the HEA surveys of new entrants. And I am of the opinion that policy should be informed by more than descriptive statistics.
I read O’Connell et al. (2006), O’Connell & Fitzpatrick Associates (2005), Clancy (2001), Clancy (1995), Clancy (1988) and Clancy (1982) when researching for my masters thesis on participation in higher education. Each report is based on descriptive statistics generated from two surveys on higher education participation in the Republic of Ireland. The 2001 review produces results from surveys undertaken in 1998.
The first survey in each HEA review of participation is sent out to higher education institutions (HEI’s) in the Republic of Ireland. It gathers information on the distribution of new entrants by college type, gender, age, field of study, educational attainment, type of school attended, financial maintenance support received, and rates of admission by county and by Dublin postal district. The second survey in each review provides information on students’ social background and is completed by students applying for higher education places. It provides information on parents’ principal economic status, social class and socioeconomic group. I assume that the second type of survey is the one that folks have been referring to.
So the Hunt report is going to be an open minded and pro student consideration of whether free fees should be returned or not?
For your next post – according to Professor Gerry McNamara of the Education Department in DCU writing in the Irish Times letters page today: “Recent research from the Rowntree foundation in the UK suggests that the re-introduction of university fees in England have had a very negative effect on social mobility.”
The problem with loans is that they are still a barrier and if paid back through tax (is a graduate tax in effect something similar) you will have two people in a job such as Administrative Officer in the Civil Service, one without a degree but the other with a degree and earning the same but paying more tax. That would be to fine education as to promote it as something that should be aimed for by the masses.
@ Liam Delaney
“Hmm…I think we might be getting to a close here. A 147 is not likely.”
I think you are working on commission 🙂
I don’t know in advance Joanna. It will certainly be posted here. I will look for the Rowntree foundation link and read the paper.
Martin, I think you are mostly correct that it is better to have the school leavers data but the HEA data should be more robust if the administrative databases are well maintained. There is a lot one could do with this data and a lot has already be done in terms of benchmarking them against the population cohorts. You are right though that noone has really nailed on this post exactly what is going on with this data so one for another post.
I should be getting commission. Another example of tireless public service on the behalf of economists. Where would everyone be without us?
Professor McNamara’s letter is below. All of the points in the letter have been raised also by Joanna above and I hope we have at least pointed out why this argument needs to be scrutinised properly.
I cannot pinpoint the research being referred to. They have written several papers over the years pointing out that the dice are loaded against poor people accessing college, something that Kevin’s research confirms in spades. A paper showing a causal effect of the return of fees in the UK on decreasing college participation among lower SES groups is not something I have seen but feel free to link to it here.
“open minded and pro student”
How can it be both?
@Brian J Goggin,
Well it could be neither.
@ Joanna, and following on from Liam’s search:
Prof. Gerry McNamara writes that “research from the Rowntree foundation in the UK suggests that the re-introduction of university fees in England have had a very negative effect on social mobility.”
On the Rowntree Foundation website, I found a paper “Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Access to Higher Education” (Forsyth and Furlong, University of Glasgow) which reports that “under-representation in higher education was primarily due to poorer school performance by disadvantaged young people, rather than to any systematic bias in university admissions policy.”
There are other findings from Forsyth and Furlong which Prof. McNamara may have been referring to: “Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds currently face a range of deterrent factors to continued participation in higher education… Financial assistance might help such people.” I could not find a more direct comment about fees and social mobility on the Rowntree website.
I have considered the argument that fee-abolition eradicated the potential effects of (a social gradient in) debt-aversion. My main thought in this regard is that a well-funded Access program (which began at second-level) could eradicate debt-aversion; and well-funded Access programs are desirable in their own right. Even if fee-abolition reduced some psychological barrier (related to a social gradient in debt-aversion), the social gradient in school performance needs to be addressed with Access programs. The most binding constraints to university attendance are matriculation requirements, and the “points” requirement. This message (about the social gradient in school performance) also came through in the Rowntree-sponsored research.
If anyone knows the specific research that Professor McNamara is referring to, please post it or send it to me and I will link to it.
Any economists out there for free third level education?
Just before the next round starts, see the paper below. Nothing in Kevin’s paper yet suggests that fees did not impact negatively on student experience and achievement in college, particularly students with parents that were constrained in financial support. As far as I am aware, such an analysis does not exist for Ireland. Freed from hard budget constraints, mid-income students may have been able to work less in paid employment and achieve better at college (of course they may not have also). But if we do find a rationale for fees it is likely to be somewhere there.
Paying for University: The Impact of Increasing Costs on Student Employment, Debt and Satisfaction
National Institute of Economic and Social Research, email@example.com
The costs of higher education in the UK have shifted increasingly from the state to the student (and students’ families). In 1998, a fee contribution of £1,000 per annum was introduced for new entrants to full-time degree courses. This paper examines its effect on debt, term-time employment and student satisfaction. The analysis uses data from a survey of two cohorts of students and identifies how the impact varied with student and course characteristics. Fees led to an increase in student debt (particularly for disabled students and for students who did not receive financial support from their families) and a decline in student satisfaction. No general impact on term-time employment was identified, but term-time employment increased for students who did not receive financial support from their families. Whilst for these two groups inequality was increased, fees appeared to lead to greater equality, in terms of term-time employment, between children of graduate and non-graduate parents. The paper discusses the implications for the introduction of top-up fees in 2006.
Key Words: Higher education • university • funding • fees • top-up fees • equality • disabled people • ethnicity • gender • finance • social class • term-time working • student • employment • debt • satisfaction • policy • disadvantage
reference was: National Institute Economic Review, Vol. 191, No. 1, 106-117 (2005) DOI: 10.1177/0027950105052662
@ Martin R
Well put points.
But perhaps third level students could pay an early school subsidy directed towards increasing mobility.
Not quite a fee, more a commitment to the future!
Free third level education?
It is not free, it has a cost.
The issues we should speak of is the unit cost and who meets the cost.
You are advocating that the users will perform better without the cost burden?
But we cant call it free.
The universities and iot’s arent providing the service for free?
I know that point but many make a similar point about education at primary and second level too (matter of degree of course). I obviously mean education paid out of our taxation system and free at the point of delivery (and you don’t need make the point about the registration fee either, because that one is well aired but it aint the same as charging €1,500 registration and another €6000 on top of that).
I suppose I should have asked if there were any left wing economists out there? (just joking)
On the one hand…..
But on the other….
Good point about 1 and 2nd level..
Perhaps the notion that adults should pay…?
I agree with the point, if you are making it, that full fees would decimate participation. I think the idea being floated is ‘student contribution’.
I understand while SU’s are against it, but it would also enfranchise students with a seat at the table.
We also need to look at what constitutes 3 level spending also.
I fear there is an new ecclesiastical aristocracy in the land, with the power to save or damm through education, and also with a sense of entitlement for a palatial existence.
But which adults? The parents or the school leavers? Because if we bring back fees on the basis the the students are adults, they will all do quite well on the income thresholds considering they are in full time education.
I am with you on your last sentance.
@Joanna – I think many of the economists are in fact left leaning if not left wing….you might not believe it!!
Aaaarrrggghhhh – I had a nice post which I hit send on – and nothing appeared. Either Liam has found it offensive (he finds most of what I say offensive!) or some gremlin. I will try reconstruct. If all this appears twice…sorry!!
I think we are heading to 147.
I am still not hearing anything to contradict the simple point Kevin made. I think a lot of what is raised – IoTs, access programmes (see the Geary work on those!), LC Applied – is all very interesting and important but does not get at overturning Kevin’s point.
I wanted to point readers at some really nice economics work. IFS in London do a huge amount on this. Look at Lorraine Dearden, Alissa Goodman and Emla Fitzsimons work at IFS (www.ifs.org.uk) – see in particular the stuff Lorraine has done at http://www.ifs.org.uk/docs/uuk_presentation10.pdf on how the reforms in the UK work (if you end up in no work, or low paying work, you won’t repay – if you get high paying job, you will clear debt fast – either way Govt is actually subsidizing more not less since the student contribution came back in the UK). Lorraine and ALissa also have a nice paper which tracks from age 11 a full education cohort (all of them!) up to age 19 and shows that ‘it is not barriers arising at the point of entry into HE (e.g. borrowing constraints) that are most problematic, but poor attainment in secondary schools. Indeed, if results can be improved between age 11 and age 16, those from poorer backgrounds are at least as likely to go on to university as their more advantaged peers.’
Nice work by folks at LSE for the the Sutton Trust latest report (hardly a right wing group – see http://www.suttontrust.com/reports/ST_submission_20100520.pdf) have a really nice report on what next in the UK – the exec summary says (my emphasis) that ‘There is a danger that a substantial increase in – and variation of – tuition fees could negatively impact on student choices in a way the current regime HAS NOT’.
Look forward to seeing the Rowntree Trust work.
Speaking of IFS and Kevin – see the evaluation of access programmes at http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/4873 or on the Geary Institute website. Different perspective – looking at in Uni performance – but again the financial constraints are not the issue.
The “past positive Vs future normative” distinction is important in many situations but not here because the study in question would not have received the attention it did had it not featured as material for those who oppose “free fees”.
There may indeed be people who believed that the abolition of fees would produce a rush of poor people into the universities but such people know nothing about poverty. No informed person had such hopes and is certainly not surprised now.
You could progress this debate by insisting that anyone arguing for the abolition of “free fees” must avoid evocative but meaningless use of “middle class”, “afford to pay” and “means tested” and instead talk in terms of income figures. Jesus wept, I’m beginning to talk like an economist!
@ Al, re a subsidy for early-school:
Interesting. But I should clarify what I have been recommending as follows. I make a number of assumptions:
(i) We are talking about what a hypothetical Minister for Education should do
(ii) This Minister has a budget (that he/she defends) and he/she has a desire to reduce inequality at third-level
(iii) If this Minister has read Kevin’s research paper, they will be aware that there is a scarcity of places at third-level, that these places are allocated by Leaving Cert. performance, and that there is a social gradient in Leaving Cert. performance
(iv) This Minister might also reflect on whether the social gradient in Leaving Cert. performance has changed since the abolition of tuition fees
(v) So assuming this Minister can hold on to all of his/her budget, they might consider how to increase the number of places at third-level (while addressing obvious cost issues) and reduce the social gradient in Leaving Cert. performance.
(vi) To achieve the latter could include many ideas: at first, second and pre-school level. But we are getting into a whole other debate here…
(vii) I want to emphasise the insight from Kevin’s research though: that the Leaving Cert. is so important. Not only does one’s points-score determine entry into third-level, it also determines what one gets to do at third-level. If we are being honest, does every kid stand the same chance of getting into a professional college-course?
One commentator, perhaps on this thread (though I can’t find the comment now) suggested that 500 points be set as the highest price of any college-course. Any student with this points-score (or higher) would be randomly allocated to a course, based on what is available and what is on the student’s hierarchical menu of preferences. I am not saying I agree with this (I only just heard the idea), but it does make one think more creatively about what can be done to improve social mobility. Oxford, famously, give more weight to academic performance based on information about the applicants’ backgrounds against five criteria.
Last year, the UK Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, called for universities to look beyond raw exam results when selecting applicants. This was translated by one newspaper into this headline: “Middle class students face university place struggle as Mandelson backs giving poorer students two-grade ‘head start'”. Of course, what the universities really want is to get the best students, selected on merit. They want the ones who are most likely to thrive at university.
@ Al and Joanna re “adults”:
First of all, the age of 18 is often viewed as the age of independence and responsibility. Of course, we know that 18-year old students do not really make an independent choice to attend third-level. The array of course that they can choose from is based on what the university can afford, given the contribution made by the state.
Secondly, it is worth noting that second-level fees were abolished in 1968, and that this is broadly viewed as a positive development by economists. The difference between second and third level education is that there is a notable ability threshold at the end of second level (by which we allocate places for third level).
Once again, I quote the Maynooth economist Aedin Doris, from an earlier thread on this blog:
“Unlike second level education, not everyone can benefit from third level because there’s an ability threshold; third level education is expensive to provide and enhances the recipient’s earnings.”
Hat-tipping Rory, here is a BBC news story from last year which includes Lord Mandelson’s comments and a description of the Oxford admissions policy:
Ferdinand picks up on the McNamara letter
I’ll continue to disagree with you on the issue of the nature of evidence in this case. Though, it is a very stimulating discussion. We covered partly the issue of how evidence is used in economics and economic policy in previous posts such as the one below. Admittedly, and I know Joanna will be concerned about this, it is possible that people will just take Kevin’s results and jump immediately to the conclusion that fees should be returned. This would not be a nuanced use of evidence. In general, a lot of “pro-abolition” arguments have not yet been aired on this post as most of us have been trying to stick to the debate about whether the 1996 abolition affected poorer potential students.
I take your point on the lack of clarity on income groups. To be fair though, we will return to this and there will be a lot of clarity on this issue when we begin to get to the brass-tacks of thresholds. Ignoring the issue for a second of how it is at all sensible to base eligibility of an adult on their parents income, a 100k household threshold for paying say 5k fees would raise something like 35 million euro per year if we assumed that the university income distribution is similar to the population distribution where approximately 10 per cent of households make more than (which of course it isn’t) and also assumed that students didn’t substitute away from university in general or Irish universities in particular. I cannot find a solid estimate of the proportion of university sending parents earning this. If it was more like 20 per cent then 70 million would be the amount raised. This is not trivial. Also, we do not know what the actual amount charged would be. The full economic cost (at current costings which may reflect inefficiency) would be in the region of 12k annually if you include the block grant. This is roughly what is charged to non-EU students. I haven’t heard anyone proposing this as the rate that would be charged.
If you put more than one link in the comment then wordpress puts it in the overall site moderation queue. I am merely the post moderator so, alas, I cannot rescue it immediately.
Actually I believe everyone can benefit from third level, just as everyone can benefit from primary and second level.
The point is one about how the CAO system works. Every school-leaver in Ireland cannot “benefit” from third-level because they don’t all qualify to attend. The process of qualifying to attend is an integral part of Kevin’s paper. And this relates to the ability threshold that Aedin mentions.
In Ireland, all children must receive compulsory education between the ages of six and sixteen years, and all children up to the age of eighteen must complete the three years of post-primary education: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2000/en/act/pub/0022/sec0001.html
Children have no choice in this matter, and their choice about subjects to study at second-level is heavily restricted. Third level is optional, and certain standards must be met at second-level before one can progress to third level.
Perhaps you are suggesting that if there was a place in third-level for every school-leaver (which is currently not even close to the case), then every school-leaver could be admitted and stand to benefit. However, just as you wouldn’t progress to Honours in Leaving Cert without doing Honours in Junior Cert, there are matriculation requirements. And these also exist internationally:
Access programs can lead to individuals who don’t get the points requirements for a certain course out-performing their peers. Other research that Kevin has worked on has shown this:
However, there are also matriculation requirements for Access programs:
“I fear there is a new ecclesiastical aristocracy in the land, with the power to save or damn through education, and also with a sense of entitlement for a palatial existence.”
This is the best comment I’ve seen in this thread and I note your frequent references to the cost base. Why are the necessary fees so high? are administration fees way too high? are (senior) lecturers salaries too high?
Education is obtaining great power in the real world and any cursory glance at job advertisements will confirm this where by-the-book HR departments produce a box-ticking list. The status of a degree has been devalued in recent years often to the point of meaninglessness and a masters and experience are often necessary.
Like some other posters I think the Leaving Cert is dreadful and gives a heightened sense of overconfidence to a select few at the expense of a widespread lack of self confidence in the majority in its current format. My solution would be to go the way of Iceland but this may be too radical a change for many!
The places expanded to allow for greater access and that is a trend that should continue, but not everyone can or wants to go to college straight from leaving certificate, and not everyone can study full time, or part time at night. We need a more flexible model of education and in addition to widening access of school leavers to address the far greater inequality that existed in the more distant past, and give those people that wish to take it up, every opportunity for a second chance.
This idea that places must be restricted is more of a university thing than a IT thing and hence my issue about Kevin’s paper only looking at universities. Of course bringing in free fees was not going to ensure someone got the points for medicine. But it is possible that free fees helped others do science in Institutes of Technology and that the points were not such a constraint.
The paper below is a useful review of strategies adopted to increase college participation among the poor. Fascinating discussion of the tradeoff between targetting programmes at poorer students and the potential that the amount of paperwork the targetting mechanisms produce might actually be a deterrent.
Into College, Out of Poverty? Policies to Increase the Postsecondary Attainment of the Poor
David Deming, Susan Dynarski
NBER Working Paper No. 15387*
Issued in September 2009
NBER Program(s): CH ED LS PE
We review the experimental and quasi-experimental research evidence on the causal relationship between college costs and educational attainment, with a particular focus on low-income populations. The weight of the evidence indicates that reducing college costs can increase college entry and persistence. Simple and transparent programs appear to be most effective. Programs that link money to incentives and/or the takeup of academic support services appear to be particularly effective.
“The places expanded to allow for greater access and that is a trend that should continue”
I agree. But there are pressing cost issues at present, and matriculation requirements are a critical issue.
“but not everyone can or wants to go to college straight from leaving certificate, and not everyone can study full time, or part time at night. We need a more flexible model of education”
I agree. I expressed my enthusiasm for life-long learning earlier in the thread.
“This idea that places must be restricted is more of a university thing than a IT thing and hence my issue about Kevin’s paper only looking at universities.”
I never put forward an idea that places ‘must be’ restricted. I did point out that places ‘are’ scarce.
“Of course bringing in free fees was not going to ensure someone got the points for medicine. But it is possible that free fees helped others do science in Institutes of Technology and that the points were not such a constraint.”
Of course, as you have previously stated “many students in ITs did not get free fees under the ESF fund (before 1996), including DIT degrees.”
Do you know which specific ITs? Did it only apply to degree qualifications or were other qualifications covered? I’ll try to do some digging myself.
I should have indicated that the above was in response to Joanna.
When the previous Minister published the unit cost of processing student grants by the various councils I had a massive eye brow spasm at the overall unit cost as well as the variation.
It would be intersting to know the breakdown of a homogenous course nationally per student. Especially what is included or not: presidential palaces or pet projects being bourn on the back of actual educational work being done.
However, could one trust the authorities to respect individual universities and IOTs soverignty in defining their individual indentities and priorities????
Al – you might be overstating the difficulty in figuring out the cost per student in Irish universities. Just take the block grant and the amount received from HEA in fees and then divide by number of students. Ok, not a precise formula but something of that nature. Would have thought it costs about 11k per student per year. (just a guess)
The presidential palace was funded by a philantrophist??
This is an area far from my competencies…
But you have outlined a per unit funding?
Admin: general, school, department, etc
Lecturing, assignments, projects
Exams, invigilating, corrections
What I was trying to point out was it may be of interest to discover a cost comparison where comparisons could be made.
For example if there were significant deviatons in costs, why?
Good reasons or Bad reasons>?
Ok, Liam, This will be a parting post. While I’ll continue to read this thread, I’ll refrain from posting and wait for another discussion.
No one with the most basic appreciation of the complex nature of deprivation could possibly have thought that “free fees” would bring more than a handful of poor students to university. The ones who go to uni. are the ones who are told from an early age, “There are three schools …”
I’ve been arguing for years that those who benefited most from free fees were those who struggled hard to pay them but could certainly not be described as able to afford them. (If this interests you, my original piece can be found here:
It is very wrong to describe such people as middle class in the same way as those on 100k+ often describe themselves as middle class. The former are just about making ends meet, the latter are rich. (If misuse of “middle class” interests you,
The HEA reckon that c. 25% of university students come from ‘employer and manager’ and ‘higher professional’ backgrounds. This roughly tallies with your, “If it was more like 20 per cent then 70 million would be the amount raised.”
In argument I’ve been assuming fees of 8k p.a.
Thanks for the link to the “evidence” thread.
First, well done for coming on here (you arent Labour’s education spokesperson are you…?) and defending the policy. If more politicians were willing to do this, and to have calm, well argued debate with the issues involved we would be all much better off.
Second – so, for ideological reasons labour is against fees. Fair enough, you are politicians. Ideology is what you do. What I find worrying then is that there is no policy that I can see from Labour as to how the third/fourth level will gain the resources to deliver even the mass sheep-dip type courses that society seems to want to be delivered. Leaving aside the cargo-cult ideas that more university/IOT graduates is , per se, a good thing, the report in the IT today (http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/frontpage/2010/0602/1224271678150.html) on the forthcoming job cuts/course closures in universities shows the difficulty heads face when they do not control their resource flow.
That leaves aside the €4b needed in capital investment
So, where then would Labour get the resources, how would these be ensured to be diverted to this area. If you can show me that, then i have no objection to free fees on financial bases. Theres another argument on the signal that paying something gives in terms of willingness to work hard but thats another day
ok Al – I thought you meant cost per student instead of cost per unit. I think some of these guys have been thinking about the other issue
colum – will take up some of those ideas at a later stage. I think you make good points across the board.
Now who’s going to take on the tricky pink and black?
Following in the wake of Kevin’s research (though not related), there is an op-ed in today’s Irish Independent by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, Fine Gael Seanad Education Spokesperson (In my opinion: Radical re-think needed to provide some equality). The piece focuses strongly on drop-out at second-level.
Following on from the paper by Deming and Dynarski that Liam mentioned above, another must read (unfortunately it is quite technical) for anyone interested in the objective evidence in this area is:
The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, Economic Journal, vol. 112(482), pages 705-734, October 2002
From the abstract:
This paper examines the family income – college enrolment relationship and the evidence on credit constraints in post-secondary schooling. We distinguish short-run liquidity constraints from the long-term factors that promote cognitive and noncognitive ability. Long-run factors crystallized in ability are the major determinants of the family income – schooling relationship, although there is some evidence that up to 8% of the U.S. population is credit constrained in a short-run sense.
A 147. A rare event on this stage though I did do my share of the potting.
A real 147 is below. Took us a little longer but overall a good thread and thanks to everyone for vigorous debate. Look forward to the next one on higher education.