EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn defended his broken election promise not to increase student fees by saying he preferred to spend the money on vulnerable students in schools.
But the €250 increase for third-level students next September to €2,250, and another 3% cut to the amount that grant recipients will get next year, has drawn anger and warnings that people will not be able to afford a higher education.
Mr Quinn signed a pledge to the Union of Students in Ireland days before February’s general election that he would not introduce fees or increase the student contribution.
The decision announced yesterday to increase the student charge was described by Independent TD Catherine Murphy as a betrayal that brings politics into disrepute.
The minister said he regrets not being able to honour the pledge that he signed before the election.
“But I was left with the choice of a €250 increase next year in the student contribution or a further curtailment of support for the most vulnerable in our schools,” he said.
But USI president Gary Redmond said that the increase was a regressive and short-sighted measure that would exclude thousands of potential college students for a saving of just €16 million.
“The promises laid out in glossy election manifestos which were loudly trumpeted by candidates less than nine months ago, now lie in tatters along with the credibility of this Government’s stated aim of building long term sustainable economic growth,” he said.
Mr Quinn said the increased fee is still much lower than the £3,465 (€4,035) in the North and the £9,000 (€10,483) some students will have to pay in England, and that the 41% of students who currently receive grants do not pay the contribution.
But those grants will be cut by 3% on top of a 5% cut to rates this year, meaning about €6 less a week for the poorest students from January.
The savings on student support rise to more than €54m a year mostly due to the withdrawal of grants for new postgraduate students, but about 2,000 may still be eligible to have their tuition fees paid and 4,000 would have their fees part-paid.
However, the various savings will not be enough to prevent further cuts to funding for third-level colleges, which will drop 2% in 2012 and 2013, and 1% in 2014 and 2015.
The Teachers’ Union of Ireland said the cuts would further reduce services available to students, while the Irish Federation of University Teachers said the cuts contradict IMF policy that investment in higher education helped to promote future recovery in countries in economic difficulty.
The Irish Universities’ Association said the cuts next year would mean Government investment per student will have fallen 19%, from €9,000 to €7,300 a year, between 2008 and 2012.
The overall third-level spending estimate falls from a €1.7 billion allocation this year to just under €1.57bn in 2012, a cut of 8%.
Despite the postponement of work on the €1.5bn Dublin Institute of Technology campus at Grangegorman, the agency tasked with its development will still have a €1.9m budget next year, down 10%.
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