Staff at third level colleges back students in opposition of loans system

Staff unions at third-level colleges are backing the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) in their opposition to a student loan system that would see graduates paying back much higher fees than currently charged.

The ‘study now, pay later’ model is one of three options put forward in the report published in July by the expert group chaired by Peter Cassells. But the USI, Irish Federation of University Teachers, Impact, Siptu and Teachers’ Union of Ireland say the Government should instead back another option — significantly increase public funding in the sector.

The Cassells report said there would be a €600m annual shortfall between current income and the amount needed to maintain standards in third level within five years.

But Education Minister Richard Bruton will not bring any recommendation on any particular route, saying he will only do so when a political consensus is found on a preferred system by the all-party Oireachtas Education Committee.

Under a banner of the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education, USI and the four trade unions referred to an Institute of Fiscal Studies finding that 70% of 2015 UK graduates are not expected to fully repay their college loans.

“We are the organisations that are on the ground, familiar with the struggles and hurdles within the sector and are collectively urging the Government to choose the only long-term sustainable and practical option in the Cassells report, a publicly funded third-level education system,” said USI president Annie Hoey.

IFUT general secretary accused Mr Bruton of indecisiveness, saying a decision is needed much more urgently on the report’s suggested funding models.

“Third-level education is at a crisis point, in terms of funding. A loan scheme has too many long-term negatives. Why give young people another incentive to emigrate?” he asked.

Aidan Kenny, assistant general secretary of the TUI, said the funding narrative needs to change from a consumer focus perspective of gaining private advantage to one of student engagement and the public good.

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