Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and BOI Chief Executive Richie Boucher launch postgraduate loan scheme.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) this morning launched a campaign aimed at highlighting their concerns about the controversial Bank of Ireland (BOI) postgraduate loan scheme. The scheme, which was launched this month with the backing of Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn,  has the potential to price further education outside the reach of many students. It has been proposed as an alternative to the more student-friendly postgraduate maintenance grant, which was done away with by the Minister in the 2012 Budget.

The campaign is aimed at informing students of the onerous terms attached to the loan scheme while simultaneously highlighting the failings of the Minister during negotiations with BOI. USI Deputy President, Kate Acheson says that they “rejected the idea of a loan scheme because they invariably lead to the de-regulation of fees and a consequential ballooning of student debt”.  She feels that both Minister Quinn and the Labour Party will be “abandoned” by Irish students at the next set of elections as a consequence of such a move.

The loan scheme proposal will see interest rates of nearly eleven per cent imposed on students who are in a position to require these loans. That figure can be contrasted with the zero per cent interest charged on loans offered by the State for similar purposes in the United Kingdom. If a student does wish to avail of such a loan they themselves must have a good credit history devoid of debts or severe overdrafts. Unlike many other monetary schemes with links to education, such as operates within the grant system, the credit history of one or both parents will not be taken into account for the purpose of assessing loan suitability.

A large concern for the USI is that students must begin making repayments on the loan immediately. While this is interest only during the period of study, capital repayments begin three months after the end of the course and apply across the board irrespective of the financial or employment situation of the person at the time.

In conversation with the University Observer, UCD Students’ Union Education Vice-President Shane Comer welcomes the campaign saying he “will be doing likewise here on the ground and informing out students of all the aspects and pitfalls of this scheme”. The USI  have prioritised the campaign with Acheson saying “the Labour Party will rue the day it betrayed the promise it made to all those who aspired to pursue their education to its highest level.”

by Yvanne Kennedy