Heads of Irish universities have expressed their support for the introduction of a student loan scheme to tackle the funding crisis in higher education at the Oireachtas Education Committee discussions yesterday,
However, representatives from Institutes of Technology (ITs) argued there should be no fees students in ordinary degree and higher certificate courses, known as Level 7 and Level 6 courses on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ). They acknowledged that the scheme may be suitable for honours degree (Level 8) courses. Level 7/6 courses are offered in much greater numbers by ITs.
The scheme would see third-level education funded by study now-pay later income contingent loans. Under the proposal, annual fees would rise to €4,000-€5,000.
The meeting was the first in a series of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education to develop plans for the funding of higher education. It comes following the publication of the Cassells Report earlier this year. That report recommended the implementation of a student loan scheme to fund the extra €600m it claimed the third-level education sector needs to secure by 2020.
Ciaran Ó Cathain, chair of the Technological Higher Education Association, noted that ITs have been disproportionately threatened by the funding crisis in higher education. Moreover, he said that as students of ITs are often from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, they are crucial in providing fair access to education.
Prof. Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University (DCU) said that countries with a student loan scheme have seen a higher proportion of students from lower-income background. He also said that the current free fees system has failed.
The prospect of a student loan scheme has met significant criticism since the publication of the Cassells Report. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) voiced its opposition in July and organised a national demonstration last month to call on the government to opt for the alternative publicly-funded scheme proposed in the Cassells Report.