Ryan Hunt: Is increasing the student contribution charge by €250 a year to €3,000 in 2015 reasonable for students?

This year’s budget will undoubtedly be tough for many to swallow. Property taxes, cuts to child benefit and PRSI increases will hit people hard. When we approach the issue of funding for third level education, we must acknowledge one particular reality. At present our education is underfunded and will very likely remain so given the economic difficulties that face our country. In his inaugural speech President of NUI Maynooth, Professor Philip Nolan put it rather bluntly;

“We are foolish to imagine that failure to adequately and decisively provide for higher education will result in anything other than an inevitable mediocrity to the detriment of generations of students’.

Expenditure in Education for the following year will be €8.9Billion, seeing a fall of€ 90million from 2012. The allocation to Higher Education institutions has fallen by some €25 million. The savings envisaged by the department by the €250 increase in fees is €18.7million. You don’t need to be studying economics to realise there is a shortfall here. Education is becoming more and more underfunded, and with that our qualifications are compromised.

So is the €250 increase reasonable?

Students who are just getting by, who are deemed beyond the threshold required to receive the grant but are by no means wealthy will find this increase hard to take. But let’s look at the choices that faced Minister Quinn.

80% of what the Minister has to work with is off limits due to the Croke Park Agreement with only the remaining 20% is available to him. As a result, unpopular choices had to be taken. If he doesn’t raise fees on students like us, those less fortunate will suffer. He has decided to protect funding to DEIS schools and for resource teachers. For me to pay a bit more so as to allow vital funding be given to ensure those from disadvantage backgrounds or who find conventional education a challenge get a decent chance I believe is a reasonable decision when considered in context.

We need a solution and it’s needed today. The view of Young Fine Gael in DCU has always been that the student loan scheme would be the best answer to the crisis. With analysis of an Ipsos – MRBI opinion poll on the issue of budgetary adjustment, 62% of those asked were in favour of cuts to spending. The public quite clearly has no appetite for tax increases, so don’t expect free education to happen any time soon.

It’s me that gains by holding a third level qualification. I can expect to earn more and to have a better chance of gaining employment. Therefore, I reckon it’s me that should take the responsibility and ensure my education is fully funded and of a high standard. This must be the direction we move in. If we fudge the issue, it will be to the detriment of our education.

Ryan Hunt, Chairperson of DCU Young Fine Gael and Second Year Economics, Politics and Law student

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