Education Minister Richard Bruton is under fire for creating a year-long delay in resolving the third-level funding crisis.
An Oireachtas committee tasked with looking at the future of third-level education is still waiting for Department of Education costings on the Cassells Report a year after first requesting them.
The Government has now been accused of creating yet another crisis as it continues to ignore the struggling third-level education sector.
The Cassells Report, published in 2016, put forward three funding options for third level including a student loan system; however, the Government has yet to act.
It is more than 18 months since Mr Bruton asked the all-party Oireachtas education committee to agree a consensus approach on the recommendations.
However, they have now been stalled in their work as they await costings of the options from the Department of Education.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin hit out at Mr Bruton for kicking the can down the road for too long and said education will now become the next crisis as the sector faces an estimated €600m shortfall annually by 2020.
Mr Martin said: “The Government has had a tendency to wait until a problem becomes a crisis, we saw that in homelessness in 2013.
“The same has applied to health and recently on an issue like the fodder crisis they were warned before Christmas that there would be a fodder crisis and it was only last week when the Government responded.
“This is going to happen with education as well.”
The chair of the education committee, Fiona O’Loughlin, said she first wrote to the department around 12 months ago and contacted them again in January seeking the economic evaluation.
“We have been waiting for over a year now,” she said.
Mr Bruton responded to the committee on March 29, two days after the Irish Examiner queried the matter.
However, the minister was unable to say when the economic review, which is now holding up the work of the committee, will be finished.
The letter stated that the review would look at a number of things including how extra funding which has been called for can positively impact learners and how skills gaps can best be addressed.
Mr Bruton wrote: “This constitutes a significant body of additional work and it is not possible at this stage to give a timetable for its completion.”
Ms O’Loughlin said: “This is the final piece in the jigsaw, we need this to go ahead, so we do need even some indicative timeline. We cannot produce a report or recommendations without this.”
Last night, there was further confusion when the department claimed they first received a request in January of this year.
By Elaine Loughlin
Political Reporter Irish Examiner