Leo Varadkar’s unclear plans for the proposed ‘Student Loan Scheme’ outraged the Union of Students in Ireland, who led the march for publicly funded education in Dublin on October 3rd.
The Taoiseach ruled out the introduction of a British or American style loan scheme system which would leave students “saddled with enormous debts”. He is yet to outline the scheme he wants for the students of Ireland or state how it might affect those benefiting from DARE, HEAR and SUSI.
Thousands of students have taken to the streets to make it clear, a week before the budget, “that we’re not going to stand over a situation of loan schemes” said Síona Cahill, USI’s VP for Equality and Citizenship.
Varadkar believes third level students “should make a contribution” to the cost of education although the USI argues that education is not a privilege but a right and the onus should not be put on students to fund it.
Confusion still surrounds what effect a loan scheme would have on Irish students. The scheme emerged from the Cassells Report by Peter Cassells, chair of the government higher education working group. Cassells declared the “current situation is unsustainable” and that the “status quo was not an option”.
The Cassells report did offer two other options for fixing the problem in third level Irish education funding. One of which was to publicly fund it which the USI determine to be the only fair solution.
The consensus from DCU students at the march was that if this scheme comes to fruition, students depending on DARE, HEAR and SUSI programmes will be seriously affected.
“I’m here because I need my grants. It would be very worrying if I didn’t have them. I don’t know if I’d even gone to college without them” said José Boyd, Applied Languages and Translation student at DCU.
With the lack of a definitive plan for the looming loan scheme, many political parties have made their positions unclear as to whether they favour it or not. Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, Minister of state for Higher Education, said the government are still considering all outcomes of the Cassells report but have made no official decision to implement any of them yet.
Fianna Fáil have said they are not completely opposed to a loan scheme unlike Sinn Féin and the Green Party who officially oppose it. Labour Party Senator, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin added that he believes that “college fees should go, not rise”.
“It’s not about what they say, it’s about what they don’t say. What he hasn’t said is he hasn’t ruled out a clear loan scheme being put in place that would ensure that students would be paying back thousands and thousands after college” said DCU Students’ Union president Niall Behan about Varadkar’s loan scheme comments.