The Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) has “cautiously” welcomed a comment made by Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who said that her department have no plans to implement a student loan system as yet. This follows the announcement made by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, that the government will delay producing costings of the options for higher education funding for another year.
Speaking outside Leinster House this week during a demonstration held by Dublin City University (DCU) students protesting against increased cost to student accommodation, Mitchell O’Connor said: “In Galway last week, the Taoiseach and I have both said that student loans are off the table. There is no plan in the department looking at that for the near future.”
Following this, USI President Michael Kerrigan said: “Students across Ireland will welcome the clearest indication yet on the thinking of the government on student loans. We’re keen to have the Minister clarify her sense of ‘the near future’ and to have the government confirm this formally on the record in Leinster House.”
On April 12, Bruton was criticised when he made the announcement that his department will be producing costings for higher education models next year, more than 18 months after he asked the Oireachtas education committee to commit to a consensus on the recommendations made in the Cassells Report. Chair of the Oireachtas education committee, Fiona O’Loughlin, expressed her frustration, saying that she had written to the department a year ago, and again in January, seeking monetary evaluations for the options outlined in the report. “We have been waiting for over a year now,” she said, according to the Irish Examiner.
The USI is seeking the government to invest in the publicly-funded third level education model, 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.