“A student loan scheme will mean that the student contribution fee will increase to a minimum of five thousand euro a year,” warned USI President Michael Kerrigan when addressing the crowd of protesters in Dublin.
An estimated 15,000 students from all across Ireland attended the USI’s Education is in the Red: March for Education today in Dublin to lobby against the implementation of a loans scheme according to Síona Cahill, USI VP for Equality and Citizenship.
Student activists marched from Custom House Quay on to Merrion Square, where speeches were delivered by an assortment of speakers including Kerrigan, NUS-USI President Olivia Potter Hughes and Impact Education Division Chairperson Gina O’Brien.
Marchers called for an immediate reduction in the student fee ahead of Budget 2018 and a commitment to invest in publicly-funded higher education.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejected British or US-style student loan schemes last week, but did not entirely rule out some form of students loans, saying that students “should make a contribution” to the costs of their degree.
Kerrigan said the USI was tired of hearing stories of students suffering at the hands of rising fees while trying to improve their future.
“We heard recently from a student in Cork who would wait in college until the college was closed and then sleep under a bridge for the night until the college opened the next morning,” Kerrigan said. “We are sick of hearing these stories, we are sick of seeing students homeless and in poverty.”
DCU Students’ Union showed their support of publicly funded education by shuttling students from campus into town to attend the march. The university also asked academic staff to accommodate students who wanted to attend the event.
“[A loans scheme] could very easily happen in the next budget in two weeks’ time and we are here to show that students are not going to stand idle,” said SU President Niall Behan. “We are actually going to act and we are going to let our voice be heard today to show that in no way are we going to let this happen.”
Kerrigan warned that putting a loans scheme into effect would have a negative effect on students, but on Ireland as a whole.
“A student loan scheme would cost this country 10 billion euro over the next 12 years to implement, it is estimated that it would take at least 17 years for it to become self-financing, and it will be at least 13 million lost every single year due to people emigrating,” said Kerrigan.
Highly educated and talented graduates emigrating and leaving behind their debt would also cause harm to Ireland’s future if a loans scheme became a reality, the USI president cautioned.
DCU second year student Bryan Mulry said he attended the march to protect the finances of future students: “I don’t want to be hit with ten grand worth of debt, I mean my own brother will be hit with twenty, my younger sister, there’s no reason to say she won’t be hit with 35, 40, or 50. I’m not here for me, I’m here for the people later on down the line.”
“To cut all government funding from us, SUSI, here, there, absolutely everything. Make college a really exclusive thing, but everybody will still need a degree?” Mulry questioned. “It’s ridiculous, they haven’t thought this one through.”
Kyle Ewald and Fionnuala Walsh