Will tomorrow’s budget finally be the end of ‘free’ third level education?

Tomorrow’s budget will determine the fate of future college students as pressure mounts on the government to make more cuts.

Wednesday’s USI pre-budget rally highlighted the importance of protecting the maintenance grant in the 2015 budget like last year.

“The student maintenance grant is an important foot in the door for thousands of citizens. It’s not enough to live on”, said Laura Harmon, President of the USI.

A Bank of Ireland study found that college costs €13,000 a year, but the grant only adds to €3,025. Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has already stated that the extra €250 from next September’s fees will not go to students’ respective colleges but rather to the government to distribute.

“As the student contribution goes up by €250, the Government funding for colleges is reduced by the same amount, but let the additional funding form students stay in the colleges instead”, said Tom Boland, head of the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The HEA deals with third-level funding and policy.

This comes as the Irish Universities Association (IUA) called colleges’ lack of funding a “growing crisis” at their conference on September 30th. The IUA warned that the higher student-to-lecturer ratio will affect the quality of education.

“The staff-student ratio will continue to deteriorate… We’ll continue to slip down the rankings until we have no universities in the top 300.” Speakers at the rally speculated that the overall fees for a degree were steadily meeting that of the UK.

“Do you think it’ll stop at €10,000? I think there are plans in Ireland to have full economic costings and students will be expected to pay €30,000”, said DCU lecturer Ronnie Munck, speaking on behalf of Defend the University.

The IUA observed that the rise of student entering third-level education is coupled with a drop in students’ income: “This is a set decline in income per student of 22% from 2008-2014.”

The USI’s pre-budget submission noted exactly how much rent rose in Ireland since last year. For instance, in Dublin rents rates rose by 17% with students paying an average of €950 on rent per month.

The USI asked for purpose-built student accommodation as the number of available properties dropped by 40% since last year.

Even Young Fine Gael seemed to be at odds with their father party. In their own pre-budget submission released this week with the name “Hope for Our Generation”, the party argued against the rising cost of tuition.

In its place, they suggested a “Graduate Tax”, where graduates will systematically pay back a “contribution later in life”.

However, this idea of a deferred payment is unpopular within the USI. The UK and US student loan system is “creating a culture of crippling debt” according to President Harmon.

Aura Mcmenamin

Image Credit: Irish Mirror

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