The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called for Ireland’s political parties to band together in order to honour pledges made in their General Election manifestos to reinstate grants for postgraduate students.
The call follows Fianna Fail’s backing for the reintroduction of postgraduate grants in recent weeks, since they were axed in the midst of austerity cuts four years ago.
“Since the postgraduate grants were cut, thousands of students have been denied the opportunity of progressing beyond undergraduate level.” said USI Deputy President Jack Leahy.
“We are urging all political parties to work together to ensure the barriers to accessing education, upward mobility and long-term career progression are broken.
“We are also calling on other political parties to align their policies and priorities with this commitment and the commitments set out in their manifestos. USI welcomes political parties prioritising postgraduate education and viewing it as a national asset, not a financial strain.”
[pullquote]“We are also calling on other political parties to align their policies and priorities with this commitment and the commitments set out in their manifestos.” – Jack Leahy, USI Deputy President[/pullquote]
Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland, disclosed in July 2012 that the government’s decision to cut postgraduate maintenance grants was ‘inconsistent with the national skills policy’.
Mr. Boland said the HEA did not advise the then-Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, on the issue of postgraduate grant cuts, but believes the decision appeared at odds with the policy of the government to develop a smart economy.
Fianna Fáil this week said that the reintroduction of postgraduate grants for thousands of students was essential. Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman, said a new education strategy being prepared by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, should include steps to correct damage caused by five years of regressive politics.
“The removal of postgraduate grants was an appallingly regressive move which acted as a barrier to accessing further education. The restoration of these grants is absolutely essential”, Mr Byrne told the Irish Times.
“In addition, whatever decisions are made in the future about funding third-level, without a doubt a substantial and recurrent increase in funding is absolutely required, as is clearly recommended through the Cassells Report.”
Meanwhile the Minister for Education said a commitment exists in the Programme for Government which focuses on low income earners trying to gain entry into third level education.
“The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to increase financial supports for post graduate students with a particular focus on those from low income households”, he said.
“All proposals made in relation to education expenditure, including changes to postgraduate student grants, will be considered in the context of the Budget 2017.”
Mr. Bruton has said he is preparing a three year strategy for education in light of the programme for government. The USI is now calling for the Minister to make a public statement to outline his exact plans to reintroduce student grants for postgraduate students, in the context of discussions which took place between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil during government formation negotiations.
“Our hope is that Minister Bruton, being the one who understands the interaction between the employment world and the education world, will recommit to postgraduate grants at the rate they were at before they were abolished”, USI’s Jack Leahy said speaking to The College View.
“We know there is political will for postgraduate grants, Fine Gael appears to be the only political party not in favour of postgraduate grants in their manifesto. We know that when we go talking to TDs over the next couple of weeks in our pre-budget lobbying that we will have support from everywhere.
“This is the government that has wanted to get people to a high standard of learning, that has wanted to pursue a high skill agenda in the area of science, technology and engineering. It does not make sense to make arrangements for that and then to cut postgraduate grants like they did in Budget 2012.
“It was baffling then and it is still baffling now and that’s why we are so keen to see it restored.”
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