The Cassells Report, released last Monday, suggested three possible solutions to tackle the third level education funding crisis in Ireland.
The first suggestion was publicly-funded education (paid by the exchequer), which the Union of Students in Ireland and LYTI SU have favoured and said it will keep equality and social mobility on a level playing field.
The second solution suggestion put forward by the report was increased state funding to make up for the short-fallings in third level education but to keep the registration fee of €3,000; the third suggestion was a state loan scheme, similar to that of loan schemes in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Mr McGowan said “Education is our value and should be a right for the people of this country. A large proportion of LYIT students are in receipt of maintenance grants. If the government continue with the proposed loan scheme, students will have an increase in tuition fees through this loan scheme, and a burden of debt bearing upon them. If it takes a protest, if it takes heavy lobbying, it’s going to be a major fight for us at LYIT this year.”
And he added “If students face debt and increasing tuition fees, they may consider choosing alternative, more cost effective routes to education, by choosing to travel to other countries that offer free education and a high standard of education. If loans are introduced, it will be a sad day for third level education, as well as students and parents who support their sibling in college.”
Campus Life did research into the average annual cost of college and they found that it was €11,000 for people living away from home and €6,000 for people living at home, which means college courses will cost between €22,000 and €66,000 – if you’re doing something like medicine.
Mc Gowan said taking on a loan of €22,000 to €66,000 will deter young people from applying to college. McGowan said we also need to look at countries that have loan schemes and realise that they simply don’t work.
“In America, third level education is the second biggest expense to the government – second only to military at 1.3 trillion dollars a year!” Mc Gowan said. “In the UK, the loan scheme got so bad that they had to sell the loan books to the banks. In Australia, 1 in 3 dollars have to be written off because people either can’t pay it back or they emigrate. We are an island, so Ireland would have similar problems with graduate emigration to avoid paying back student loans.”
Irish third level fees are the second highest in Europe, after the UK. Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland all offer free education. The registration fee in France is €180 – €2,820 cheaper than the Irish registration fee.
“Publicly-funded free education is not impossible. If it was, so many other countries in Europe wouldn’t offer it.” Mc Gowan said. “Publicly-funded free education in Ireland will be the biggest driving force behind economic success and fully pulling the country out of the recession. The Taoiseach keeps telling us we have the fastest-growing economy in Europe. If we want to retain that pace, we need to make sure our workforce is up to speed with being at the forefront of this economy. The best way to accomplish this is with publicly-funded free education, which is open and accessible to all who wish to avail of it.”
McGowan emphasised all of society benefits from education, not just those receiving the education, and stressed that free, publicly-funded education is the only thing that permanently breaks poverty traps, enables social mobility and empowers the youth.
LYITSU and USI are urging the Oireachtas committee to choose publicly-funded free education as the only real, practical solution to the funding crisis.