WIT Students’ Union (WITSU) Officers have been meeting with local TDs as part of the Education Is campaign. The campaign comes from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). They’re calling on the Irish government and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills to make a historic long-term decision and invest in the publicly-funded third level education model as outlined in the Cassells Report. USI know that an income-contingent loan scheme is not a viable solution to third-level funding. A system like this will create a burden of €20,000+ debt on anyone who wishes to attend third-level education.
The financial strain of carrying a debt to cover fees spans across all communities and groups including parents, children, staff and teachers – not just students. For example, America’s student loan debt ($1tn+) is greater in value than the combined economies of Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. Elsewhere, home-ownership in under-40s in New Zealand has drastically fallen since the introduction of student loans, from 57% to 25%. However, by charging no tuition-related fees, Germany now has 41 universities that are considered by Times Higher Education to be among the best in the world. In France, where they have registration fees of under €200, there are 27.
Supporting the Education Is campaign, WITSU Officers Michelle Byrne, Marie Sheedy and Michael Murphy sat down to discuss the publicly-funded third level education model with a number of TDs: TD David Cullinane (Sinn Féin), Councillor Jim Griffin (Sinn Féin), TD Mary Butler (Fianna Fáil), Councillor Eamon Quinlan (Fianna Fáil) and Councillor Joe Kelly (Independent).
David Cullinane spoke in favour of the model but said getting it in place wouldn’t be straight forward. Jim Griffin, who was also at the meeting, expressed his opinions too. David is very much against an income-contingent loan scheme and wants to avoid taxing the general public as they would be against any such move. He also referenced his new document which was put together on the WIT and IT Carlow merger.
Mary Butler told the WITSU Officers how, when her children were going to college, she was barely outside of the grant bracket and wasn’t eligible for one. She also said that having loans with no SUSI grant system would not work. She is also in favour of publicly-funded education. Her party, Fianna Fáil, are moving away from the loan scheme idea and are looking into postgrad grants as an option.
Eamon Quinlan said the Chamber of Commerce is against any form of loan scheme due to the debt it would result in. He also mentioned that Scotland, after the Industrial Revolution, saw a proliferation of education in the middle class and the return was greatly beneficial for the country. Based on this, he’s very much in favour of the publicly-funded education model.
Joe Kelly also supports the model. He spoke about his experiences as a student and stressed the importance of getting parents involved as they are affected too. He is hoping to put in a motion to Council in supporting WITSU’s call for publicly-funded education.
WITSU President, Michelle Byrne, was very happy with how each of these meetings went. “It is very encouraging to hear all of the Waterford TDs and Councillors that we met supporting students and publicly-funded education. We hope that this will designate in the Dáil too when the choice is being made” Michelle said. “I encourage all students and parents to write to their TD, which is easily found on https://www.whoismytd.com/, and express how you feel about the future of third-level funding and how debts would affect you and your family should income-contingent loans be introduced. We want education to be accessible to all. Education is a public good.”
WITSU will continue to support USI’s Education Is campaign until the Irish government fully invest in the publicly-funded third level education model. For more information about the campaign please visit USI’s website: http://usi.ie/educationis/