Ireland's smart economy will be scuppered by fees and grants cuts

The future of Ireland's smart-economy is looking decidedly bleak after the beleaguered Irish Government confirmed earlier this week that it intends raising the college registration fee to €2,000 ($2,664) and adding grant cuts to the list of austerity measures facing the Irish third level sector in the new year.

The news makes grim reading for Irish student unions who have been lobbying fervently over the past few months against Government plans to raise tuition fees, but who are refusing to call outright defeat on the matter, with the holding of a major student march on Cork next week perceived as a last ditch attempt to show the Government that opposition to the planned move still runs at fever-pitch.

The unfortunate reality, is that the student marches and lobbying are beginning to seem like a waste of time and effort - if commendable ones - as the Government sends out clear signals that only the size of the fee increase is up for discussion.

The problem with the planned cuts, which the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) has been highlighting ad nauseam, is that cutting third level grants and increasing registration fees could together spell the end for the smart economy dream.

Ireland is almost unmatched in modern economic history for the speed of its advancement from a traditional agrarian economy to a modern services-based one, but the continuation of that current economy - and the prosperity which it had engendered - may not prove sustainable once low-income students start dropping out of college like flies.

Ireland's new financial task-masters, the EU and the IMF, have made clear that our current corporation tax-rate of just 12.5% is economically untenable, so major US and international corporations will have not just one but two reasons to forsake Ireland in favour of foreign shores: less smart, highly qualified graduates - in fact less graduates, period - and a less incentivizing tax regime.

There is, of course, a government perspective in all this. Cuts have to be made, money has to be saved, and the IMF have to be answered to, but this looks like the most ominous of solutions to the problem.

Time and time again the government's decision making has been called into question. It should be again.

Austerity measures and bleakness will be necessary no matter what way the government tries to increase the bottom line, but the opportunity cost of these measures may outweigh the benefits.

The third level cuts aren't just bad news for college-goers and their parents and sponsors, but for Ireland as a whole.


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