By Sam Griffin
The government has broken the pre-election promises it made to students by introducing cuts to education in the Budget, according to the DCU branch of the Labour Party.
Chairman of Labour DCU, David Healion, said he is angry with his party’s cuts to education, while Young Fine Gael secretary Keith Hoare said the government had broken promises.
Prior to February’s general election, Ruairí Quinn publicly promised to fight any increase in the amount students would have to pay for third level education.
Fine Gael made a similar promise but last week saw a €250 increase in the student contribution fee, among many other cuts in education.
Healion told the College View: “We’re very disappointed with the parliamentary party in a lot of the decisions they’ve made. Our position on fees was clear. We were campaigning with the other 20,000 students a couple of weeks ago when we were marching in the streets. We’re completely against any rise in fees.”
The chairman feels students should be entitled to attend college completely free of charge, with an increase in taxes the only viable solution.
“I believe in a system whereby a progressive tax system pays for education and students should have to make no contribution towards it.”
He also thinks the cut to the postgraduate maintenance grant will have a devastating effect on students’ employment prospects and on the economy in general.
“It will have a detrimental effect on the economy. How are you going to build a knowledge based economy without postgraduates? You need people doing postgrads but this will just discourage people.”
Labour DCU campaigned for the party not to join Fine Gael in government before the last general election as they felt Labour would be made a scapegoat by their larger coalition partners. Healion believes this is exactly the case with this budget.
“We foresaw this happening. We knew that we’d be the minority party and that we’d end up disgraced by the decisions Fine Gael is going to make because basically these are polar opposite policies,” he said
Young Fine Gael’s Keith Hoare conceded the measures were tough on students but felt they will ultimately benefit from the cuts.
“We have to look at the wider economy which will benefit students when they graduate and I think this budget is going to help us reach our targets to reduce our deficit. So short term, it’s not great for students, but in the long term it will be.”
Hoare said he thought the measure to cut postgrad grants was “harsh” and believes a gradual phasing out of the grant would have been fairer than a total abolition.
He also conceded that like the Labour Party, Fine Gael have gone back on their word in terms of fighting increases to student fees.
“There’s no doubt this government has broken promises but I do believe a lot of these promises were made in good faith. I don’t believe there were promises made knowing they couldn’t be fulfilled,” he said.
On the issue of last week’s referendum on higher level education funding, the parties differed on the best way forward. Labour DCU encouraged voters to back option five, which would see an end to any student contribution fees and all funding for third level education coming from the tax system.
Healion is also critical of the inflated wages of some individuals in third level education and believes cuts here could also be used to improve education standards.
“People like Brian MacCraith are earning €180,000 a year. I believe in equality and there shouldn’t be any monetary hindrance on students attending college. Increase taxes on those who can afford to pay for it.”
Fine Gael supported the student loan scheme whereby students would pay for their third level education when they find employment.
“We believe this student loan scheme pays students back when education pays them. This is the fairest thing to do. Free fees are just not an option in this country.”
He added he would be in favour of reducing the wages of top earners in the education system also but stated he does not believe this would create enough money to allow for free fees.