According to the government’s ‘Action Plan for Education’, higher education funding will be decided upon and implemented by late 2017.
There are plans to replace the SUSI grant system and create a new financial ‘structure’ for primary, secondary and third-level education in Ireland. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, along with Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton, made the announcement last week despite intense criticism from opposition parties and Irish universities.
Peter Cassells was commissioned in March 2016 to create a government initiative on higher education funding. The report produced by Cassells’ working group, ‘Investing the National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education’, is currently being reviewed by the Oireachtas Education and Skills Committee. This committee will decide upon the new funding model for third level education in Ireland.
The Cassells Report concluded that the current funding system is “simply not fit for purpose” because it “fails to recognise the current pressures facing higher education institutions or the scale of the coming demographic changes”. It recommended three options: core funding, which would mean an additional €600m by 2021 and €1bn by 2030; capital funding, which would involve raising €5.5bn in capital investment to support increased student numbers, health and safety requirements and equipment upgrades; and student support, which would require an additional €100m in funding to deliver a more effective system of student financial aid (a student loan system).
Critics have argued that the third option would negatively affect many students. However, at the launch Enda Kenny called this option “not just a plan, but a plan to be implemented” and stated that the government has endorsed the student support or loan system.
Speaking to Trinity News about this option, President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Kieran McNulty said that the SU is “obviously against fee increases or increases to the ‘student contribution’. We’re engaging heavily with USI (Union of Students in Ireland) on their march on October 19th (in opposition to a student loan system) and I’ve met with several public representatives on the issue”.
USI has lobbied the government to review any implementation of student loans. USI President Annie Hoey has called for a €500 immediate reduction in student contribution fees and a €140m investment in higher education because the government needs to “match talk of economic recovery with financial investment in third-level education”.
This year McNulty has launched an SU lobby group which will work with TDs, Senators and other groups to research and review policies in the interests of students. He agreed with Hoey that: “Students have been disproportionately hit since 2008 and we deserve a better quality education. Loans are, for me personally, a slippery slope, and the Cassells Option 3 suggests loans of at least €4,000 per year, an automatic increase, which we would oppose. We need students to stand up against this, and the SU needs students to rise up and show how much we depend on an affordable system”.