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The Effect of Abolishing University Tuition Costs Essay

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The effect of abolishing university tuition costs:
evidence from Ireland
IFS Working Paper 05/11
Kevin Denny

The effect of abolishing university tuition costs:
evidence from Ireland
Kevin Denny*
School of Economics & Geary Institute,
University College Dublin
Institute for Fiscal Studies, London
March 24th 2011
University tuition fees for undergraduates were abolished in Ireland in 1996.
This paper examines the effect of this reform on the socio-economic gradient to
determine whether the reform was successful in achieving its objective of
promoting educational equality that is improving the chances of low socioeconomic status(SES) students progressing to university. 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. 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. 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.
Keywords: tuition costs, university, fees, socio-economic background, educational attainment
JEL: codes: I21,I22


Address: Kevin Denny, School of Economics, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland. Tel: +353 1
716 8399. Email: kevin.denny@ucd.ie. Tarja Viitanen did an excellent job preparing the data which was kindly
provided by the ESRI. I thank Peter Carney, Liam Delaney, Colm Harmon, Vincent O’Sullivan, Martin Ryan, John
Sheehan & Ken Troske for helpful suggestions and Orla Doyle for detailed comments. An earlier version of this
appeared with the title “What did abolishing university fees in Ireland do?” This research was partly funded by
the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions at the UCD Geary Institute...

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