Over 5,000 students march for publicly funded higher education

The USI are lobbying the government to eliminate the possibility of income-contingent loan schemes in Budget 2018 as well as a reduction of the Student Contribution Charge

Over 5,000 students across Ireland are marching in Dublin today, October 4. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) are calling the government and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills to deliver a timeframe for increasing investment in higher education.

The USI are looking for the government to eliminate the possibility of the introduction of income-contingent loan schemes in Budget 2018 as well as a reduction of the Student Contribution Charge by at least €250. The union is also looking for increased funding in Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), following cuts in grants in 2011 and 2012.

This follows an announcement that the committee had not reached an agreement to outline a long-term funding model for the upcoming Budget 2018, with Fianna Fáil looking for a further €110m to be invested.

Speaking in Front Square this morning, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) President said: “We’re here today, because we know that Education is a public good. Education is transformative, to the lives of the students and everyone around them. Education is a fundamental human right, and it’s way past time that the government steps up and funds it.”

Keane continued: “Leo and his friends have been toying with the future of education for far too long, and we’re here, as a united student movement, to show them, unequivocally, undeniably and without compromise that the future of education is publicly funded.”

Speaking of the possibility of the introduction of loan-contingent schemes affecting students, Keane said: “The burden of their unjust debt will weigh them down when they apply for a car loan, it will drag them down when they apply for a mortgage, it will shackle them to a job they may absolutely hate, in order to pay for their education. Their debt will drag them down until the day they die.”

The USI is seeking the government to invest in the publicly-funded third level education, as outlined in the Cassells Report. The report, published in 2016, outlined three funding options for funding third level education. They included an increase in state-funding with payment from students through income-contingent loan schemes, a mostly state-funded system, or an increase in state-funding with student fees.

According to the Irish Times, to make higher education free, state-funding would have to increase from 64% in 2016 to 80%. A student loan scheme would see state-funding at 50%. An income-contingent loan scheme would cause average student debt to accumulate to over €20,000.

Speaking to Trinity News prior to the march, USI Vice President for Equality and Citizenship Síona Cahill said: “Students in their thousands will be on the streets, and they’re not just protesting. They’ve been speaking to their politicians about this issue and they will be encouraged to keep that engagement up after the march too.”

Students and demonstrators are meeting at Custom House Quay and are marching to the Department of the Taoiseach. Speaking of the march in a press release, USI President Michael Kerrigan said: “Students are taking to the streets because education is in the red. The government have been kicking the can down the road on the issue of higher education funding, while ten out of fourteen Institutes of Technology are in serious financial difficulty being starved of funding. It’s time to invest, and it’s time to make the right decision to publicly invest in third-level education.”

Kerrigan continued: “In a country where generations may never get a mortgages or a home, saddling more debt onto children or increasing fees cannot be the answer to plugging the funding gap for their education. An income-contingent student loan outlined in the Cassells Report is a drastic increase in fees from €3,000 to €5,000 a year in disguise. The moment we accept higher fees and a loan scheme, we are saddling people with a minimum of €20,000 of debt and forcing them to emigrate.”

Speakers at the event include Kerrigan, Institute of Technology Tallaght (ITT) lecturer in mathematics, Dr. Martin Marjoram, as well as President of Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, Jane Hayes-Nally.

Seana Davis

Seana Davis is a fourth year Geology student and News Editor of Trinity News.