Budget 2021 was a missed opportunity to reform Ireland´s higher education system

Emma Nevin

Budget 2021 was presented by Minister for Finance Paschal O'Donohoe Credit: The Irish Examiner

Ireland’s most ambitious budget in the state’s history was announced on Tuesday, and the fact that it is basically eliminated from the news cycle a day later illustrates the crazy times we’re living in. 

Simon Harris secured almost €3.3 billion for his newborn Department of Further and Higher Education, €50 million of which has been allocated to give college students a once off payment of 250 euro. to assist with the transition to online learning.

For students who paid their own student contribution fee, this will essentially be an 8.3% refund on the fees and for SUSI recipients it is a top up on their maintenance grant.

Harris also committed to a full review of SUSI being completed by next summer. He will “review eligibility and adjacency rates, part time education and other costs.”

So, there’s the good news. Students were not totally abandoned, which is worthy of celebration, right? It was starting to feel like Irish university students were the middle child of the family who’s birthday everyone forgets.

However the bad news is the €250 payment is bread crumbs. It won’t buy you a decent laptop, nor will it cover the cost of even two weeks rent in Dublin. This budget was another failure by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to save higher education from the jungle of commodification.

It gave a blind eye to the Union of Students in Ireland’s call for a 500 euro permanent fee reduction, and failed to even make a commitment to a long term reduction in fees.

SUSI is not the solution. A €250 once off payment is not the solution.

This isn’t about being hysterical, or disregarding the massive spending commitments the government has made across the board. But for struggling students it is so disheartening that even the most historical and significant intervention ever made into the Irish economy did not feature a long term commitment to lower college fees.

Ireland has the highest university fees in the EU. College students sound like broken records at this stage  but it is infuriating that members of this cabinet, in successive governments, have overseen an increase in student contribution fees by a whopping 264 per cent in 12 years.

Throwing a bit of cash into our pockets isn’t what students are begging for. The Irish student crisis can only be solved by government policy and a desire from our leaders to reform the system.

This payment of 250 euro is an acknowledgement that Covid-19 has inflicted adversity, stress and hardship on the lives of Irish college students.

But university-goers were burdened with crises long before the virus entered our lives, and this government missed an opportunity to permanently change that.

Emma Nevin

Image Credit: The Irish Examiner