Students March for the Future of Higher Education

Students took to the streets of Dublin on Wednesday October 4th to march for the future of third level education funding. The march was arranged to take place one week before the government release their budget for the next year. The demonstration was organised to show the Minister of Education, Richard Bruton, that students need answers for how third level education will be funded in the future. The Cassel’s Report published in 2016 outlines three possible options for the future of finding third level education. One option is the introduction of an income-contingent loan scheme, where third level is free at the point of entry but which graduates than pay back the fees when in employment. A second option is increased government funding to make higher education free at the point of access, and the third option is third level education which is entirely government funded. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and UCDSU are against the introduction of an income-contingent loan scheme. Speaking to the University Observer UCDSU Education Officer Robert Sweeney explains that they will be marching against the introduction of income-contingent loans. “The main aim of the march is to campaign for grant investment and also for publicly funded education, and the third message of the march is saying no to student loans. So the focus we’re going with this year is ‘Student Debt Kills Dreams.’ We’ve seen student loans scheme fail all over the world, in the UK, and in Australia.” Another concern of Sweeney’s is the SUSI grant scheme “SUSI grants are not covering rent. UCD is in a unique area and I think that is why we have to be so vocal at the march because students come from all over the country to the most expensive place in the country when they could probably be the most broke.” In a press release, USI President Michael Kerrigan outlines why he believes an income-contingent loan scheme would have disastrous results. “In a country where generations may never get mortgages or a home, saddling more debt onto children or increasing fees cannot be the answer to plugging the funding gap for their education. An income-contingent loan outlines in the Cassel’s Report is a drastic increase in fees from €3,000 to €5,000 a year in disguise.” In response to the March for Education, the Minister of State, with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor has said: “This is a very important sector. The Government is aware we need to fund our third level institutions so we produce thoughtful, inspired graduates to enrich our growth as a society.The Government must look at long term sustainable funding streams to make sure that our universities and our Institutes of Technology continue to excel and be world class. I am adamant there will be no undue financial pressure placed on parents and students.   We simply do not want our students graduating burdened with the kind of debts that we have seen in other countries. We are awaiting the report from the Cross Party Education Committee on the Cassells’ report.  Once we have that report, I will bring it to cabinet and will make it one of my top priorities to ensure that there is a fair outcome for students and their parents” Ahead of the budget, the University Observer spoke to TD Thomas Byrne, Education spokesperson for Fianna Fáil who says his party are committed to improving funding for higher education institutes. “Higher education institutions remain significantly underfunded and this is having a detrimental impact on our future social and economic prospects. Fianna Fáil has been pushing for additional investment in higher education and we have highlighted that at least an additional €100m to €120m is required in Budget 2018 for recurrent funding for Universities and Institutes of Technology.“We are proposing that this funding comes from two sources - €65m from additional revenue via the National Training Fund and €44m from central exchequer funding.” The budget is to be delivered on Wendesday October 11th.