The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has expressed concern about the lack of a plan to reduce Irish student fees in the programme for government put forward by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party this week. In a statement issued today, USI said that while some elements of the programme were promising, there was a lack of detail on how a number of actions will be taken.
The statement welcomed the commitment that student fees will not be increased, but said that USI is disappointed that there is no plan to decrease Irish students’ fees, currently the highest in the European Union. “Currently standing at €3,000 for undergraduate students, and between €4,000 and €9,000 plus for postgraduates, the charge is a barrier to education for many, and we should be aiming to break these barriers, especially in light of the global pandemic which is forecast to lead to an economic recession.”
USI also criticised the lack of detail in the government’s plan to “ensure that mental health supports are available for students in Higher and Further Education”, saying that third level students need a commitment to increase resources for mental health programmes, and for them to become a central part of college life.
The statement welcomed a number of the government’s proposals, saying that they were in line with USI policy. These included plans to develop a sustainable long term funding model for third level, review eligibility and adjacency rates for the SUSI grant, as well as addressing the current gap inn. Also included were the programme’s commitment to support students living in direct provision, as well as the plan to end direct provision within the lifetime of this government. The need to replace direct provision with a “humane and expeditious alternative” was emphasised, and the statement outlined that USI would continue to campaign for this.
Also welcomed was the plan to build more off-campus student accommodation, and the indication of a cost rental model being pursued. The need to clearly the definition of cost rental was emphasised, as well as the need for the model to be affordable. Generally speaking, cost rental refers to housing provided by local councils where rent is used to cover the cost of building the property, rather than in pursuit of profit.
The statement said that the reviews and examinations detailed in the programme, including the Back to education allowance in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, need to be made with urgency and that “all relevant stakeholders, including students, staff and student representatives” be included in such discussions.
Finally, the statement acknowledged that the programme for government is simply a set of plans and that more work needs to be done if such plans are to be followed through, saying that “the student movement will campaign, lobby and hold the government to account as it has always done, to ensure the promises that are in line with our policy become a reality.”
Members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party are due to vote on the programme for government this week, with results expected on June 26.