A coalition of unions across the country have criticised the loan options outlined in the Higher Level funding report released earlier today. Trade Unions including IMPACT, SIPTU, IFUT , TUI and USI have all come out to condemn the proposal, outlined in the Cassells report.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which UCD voted not to rejoin earlier this year, have also criticised the loan scheme, claiming that the only feasible option is to push for publicly funded higher education. “Publicly-funded higher education is the only long-term practical solution the Cassells report can suggest,” said President of the USI Anne Hoey.

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The report has outlined three options that were widely expected; free fees, a continuation of the current system with the student contribution and a loan scheme. The scheme could see students borrowing around €20,000 over the course of their degree.

The findings did emphasize the importance of investing in higher education, claiming “In its analysis and consultations the Expert Group has identified the many contributions of higher education to Irish prosperity, society, culture and public life.”

Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, echoed these sentiments. “Education is central to our ambition as a nation. Our central aim in education is to use our strong economy to improve equality of educational opportunity. Without a strong economy it is impossible for us to build a compassionate society; without a fair society it is impossible for us to create a growing economy.” However, he has not yet stated which option the government is likely to go with.

The Higher Education Authority has announced that they will now conduct a review into how third level institutions are funded.

The report was finally released this morning after a number of setbacks, including a stipulation that it would not be considered until a government could be formed.   Release of the report had already been delayed since last December.

As third level funding has dramatically decreased in the last number of years, fears are that the option chosen by government will be a graduate loan scheme.

UPDATED: UCD Students’ Union president Conor Viscardi has responded to the report. He acknowledges the importance of state funding in third-level institutions citing figures that state funding for third level has dropped from 84% to 64% since the 2008 financial crisis. He stated “where we are now with inadequate third level funding is because of an economic collapse caused by a system predicated on unsustainable debt.” He continued that “we [the SU] fully believe third level education has to be accessible and approachable for students of all socio-economic backgrounds and are happy to see that one of the key report recommendations is to return state contribution to higher education back to pre-2008 levels of 80% and progressively abolish the student contribution charge.”

The Cassells report can be found in full here.