Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Council has voted in favour of a campaign to lobby the government to increase financial support for Graduate Entry Medicine students.
Delegates from TCDSU who attend the Union of Students In Ireland (USI) National Council and USI Congress are to put forward motions at meetings of those bodies to establish a nationwide USI campaign to lower GEM tuition fees.
In doing so, the campaign would aim to lobby the Irish government to increase financial support for GEM students nationwide.
The motion was proposed by JS Physiology class representative Charles Sweeney.
Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) are accelerated medical degrees available to any student holding a 2.1 in any Level 8 degree.
Programmes are four years long, and although Trinity does not offer GEM programmes, many Trinity graduates from the biomedical sciences go on to pursue a GEM degree.
Currently, GEM degrees are offered at the Royal College for Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC) and University of Limerick (UL).
Council noted that GEM fees are “exorbitantly high”, and that they are currently not supported by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) or the Higher Education Authority (HEA) Free Fees.
Sweeney described the problem as arising from the fact that GEM degrees are placed on a national framework of qualifications as a Level 8 degree. “As a GEM student holds a Level 8 and is entering Level 8 GEM the HEA does not consider this furthering your qualification,” Sweeney noted.
GEM fees can come to between €14,000 and €17,000 per year for Irish and EU students, and for international students, which Sweeney referred to as “astronomical”.
“With no government supports available GEM students take out loans that when you include cost of credit over term exceed 100,000,” Sweeney said.
Claire Molloy also spoke in favour of the motion, stating that students who take out loans for GEM programmes may be in debt for up to ten years.
As fees increase year upon year at a rate that Sweeney called “faster than the loans available”, students are unable to pay the rising fees with a lack of government support for their degree.
Anna McGaffney, a mature student, echoed the fact that “it is difficult enough” to afford life as a mature student, and although “Ireland prides itself on a free education”, GEM fees are impossible for students to afford.
Sweeney, whose proposal was seconded by TCDSU President Eoin Hand, told Trinity News that he has advocated for the fees issue since his second year, when he was studying as a biomedical science student. He called the issue something which “a lot of people in biomedical science, physiology, molecular medicine etc. and also human health and disease and other sciences care about deeply”.
He said that he sees the HEA ruling that pursuing a GEM does not further one’s qualification as “dubious”, as “it’s the norm in the U.S. and also the U.K. that students do an initial bachelors in a biomedical science field before pursuing a degree in medicine as a graduate”.
The “depth of education” that he feels the U.S. and U.K. exemplify is crucial to the production of more doctors, which, if implemented in Ireland, would be “to the tangible benefit of Irish society”.
Deputy STEM convenor Bev Genockey urged council members to vote in favour of the motion, stating that although Trinity itself does not offer a GEM programme, students would appreciate the support of the SU as tuition fees to GEMs are part of an “access issue” for Trinity students.
President Eoin Hand seconded the motion, stating that “the fees are marginalising students who want to get into these programmes”.
Graduates of GEM degrees contribute to roughly one-third of new Irish doctors every year, and Sweeney said that as a member of a working-class family, “routes into studying medicine should not only be available to students who can afford it”.
This motion follows a movement in late October of this year during which roughly 70% of GEM students in UCD withheld their fees in order to protest yearly GEM tuition fee increases.
Several elections also took place at TCDSU Council this evening.
Elvita Reimonte was elected for Community Liaison; Ewan Viktor Tushkanov for Oversight Commission; Adam Balchin for Electoral Commission and Liam Kavanagh, Daniel O’Reilly and Mia Brzakovic as members of the Constitutional Review Working Group.
Under the Communications Committee, Zara Finn was elected Sponsorship Officer, Sky Calkins for Photography and Videography Officer and Orla O’Regan for Ordinary Member.
Additional reporting by Kate Henshaw and Connie Roughan.