Ireland's education is administered through its Department of Education and Science. Their government views education as a fundamental right under their constitution. They invested money over a period of time and now have one of the world's highest education participation rates. Around 60% of Irish students go on to higher education. In the US we can't even get 60% to graduate from high school in our urban school districts.
In 1987 Ireland was Europe's worst performing economy. The unemployment rate was 17% and the government debt was 112% of GDP. By 2003 it was Europe's best performing economy and one of the ten riches countries in the world with an unemployment rate of 4% and government debt at 33% of GDP.
One of the contributing factors for this huge turnaround was the supply of scientists, engineers and business school graduates from the educational system. This pool of high skill labor attracted high-tech companies like Polaroid and Digital Equipment. Just this last June the Irish Minister for enterprise, trade and employment announced a new 30 million Euro fund to increase the high tech R&D within higher education. This is a land with only 4 million residents. In addition they have earmarked 2.7 billion Euros from now through 2008 to continue to advance Ireland's knowledge economy.
Here the Bush administration is only making it harder and more expensive for anyone not born into the 'haves' to get an education. With the recent news about rate increases for Stafford Loans the US would do well to examine Ireland's approach to education.
When I got my first degree in 1975 and my graduate degree in 1977 I owed around $4500. It was at 3% interest. I had one year grace period before I had to start paying and I had 10 years to pay it off. I think my monthly payment was less then $50.
When I went back to school in 1987 and graduated in 1990 I did it without borrowing any money because I was employed as a firefighter and had the support of my wife even though we were raising two daughters in high school at the time.
Now I earn three times what I got paid as a firefighter but I don't see that many young people today will have the same opportunity that I did.
The Information Age started in America because we had the talent and the innovation that it took to make it happen. This was largely brought about by the GI Bill and low interest government back loans. Like so many of my fellow veterans I got a college education that I probably won't have without the $435/month the GI Bill gave me.
Education here should be a goal and higher education should be considered an investment in America's future. Too bad the Bush administration doesn't see it that way.