A mandate proposed by SU president Lynn Ruane at Tuesday’s Council asking the union to oppose student loans was defeated by a small margin.
The mandate was proposed in response to widespread speculation that some form of student loans and fees will be recommended by the independent advisory committee to the government, the Cassells group.
The Cassells group was set up by the minister for education and skills Ruairi Quinn to examine future funding policy for higher education. Petter Cassells, a former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is the group’s independent leader.
“Student loans will lead to a decrease on the amount of students who enter universities on a student grant,” Ruane claimed during the debate.
She further said: “once a loan scheme is in place we leave ourselves wide open for an increase in fees. If you want to block education introduce loans.”
Her speech was followed by a speech from Oisin Coulter, who supported the motion. Coulter told Trinity News that ‘loans, at their core, mean increased fees’ and this leads to higher education being ‘restricted to the upper class, that universities become even more privatized and profit driven’
First to speak in opposition to the motion was Alice MacPherson, deputy convenor for the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “In an ideal world education would be free. but this is not an ideal world,” she said. MacPherson also argued that the premise of the motion was based on “media speculation about a report which has not come out yet”.
She also responded to Ruane’s criticism of the English system of student loans. “I went to a disadvantaged school in England,” MacPherson recounted, “and all of us went to on to universities. That would not have been possible 20 years ago.”
Sean O’Carroll spoke next, also in opposition to the motion. “First I would like to clarify fees and loan are not the same thing” he said. O’Carroll justified student loans by arguing that “working during term time negatively affects academics” and loans offer students the ability to focus on their studies.
He further argued, “I have been fortunate enough that my parents have been willing to pay for my education, I shouldn’t have to rely on them and neither should others in that fortunate position.”
Although the Cassells group will not released their full recommendations until December, media reports suggest that Ruane is accurate in assuming they will propose a fee increase and some type of student loan system.
The defeat of Ruane’s motion is one of the first in her time as SU president.