The programme for government negotiated between Fine Gael and the smattering of independents, several of whom have joined the ranks of cabinet, does something for higher education that the last government was also very good at: delaying decisions about sector that everyone from the CEO of the Higher Education Authority to a state body responsible for quality in education has said is in complete crisis.
This is not the first time the Editorial Board of The University Times has noted that politicians often prefer to talk about solving problems for as long as possible before actually spending the money to solve them. It is also not the second or third time that the board has complained about persistent inaction when it comes to the higher education funding crisis.
The news that a cross-party Oireachtas committee is to review the findings of the yet-to-be-published Cassells report is just that: another way of talking about the funding crisis and what needs to be done without any commitment to when a decision is going to be made, or any indication of who is ultimately responsible for making it. Never mind that the report should have been published in December, around ten weeks before the general election – allowing parties to assess its findings and commit to a model in manifestos. Never mind that the last government had already commissioned a report on funding, one that was completed in 2011, another oft-repeated point in the pages of The University Times. It is obviously essential that the issue needs more analysis and more debate, even when everyone is agreed that action needs to happen now, and should have happened long ago.
There is, however, something vaguely positive to be taken from the decision to have a cross-party committee review it. With there being only one government minister who either is not a current or former Fine Gael member, leaving it up to the government alone could very easily leave us imposed with loan schemes and higher tuition fees. With Richard Bruton the first Fine Gael Minister for Education in 30 years, there is some solace in this committee news, especially given suspicions that committees are going to play a more powerful role in forming consensus during the lifetime of this government.