Senator Bacik expresses concern about student loan proposal
On the Order of Business today, Senator Ivana Bacik expressed her concern regarding the proposal to introduce a scheme of income contingent student loans to fund third level education, and called for a debate on the report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education chaired by Peter Cassells.
Senator Bacik said:
“It has always been my firm and passionate belief that education should be free from cradle to grave – free at point of access, paid for indirectly through taxation. This is a core principle, a key tenet of social democracy and socialism – it’s about redistribution of wealth, and universality of access.”
“The funding crisis within the Irish higher education system cannot be ignored – the current method of funding our universities and institutes of technology is not meeting their current and future needs. This funding crisis is very clear if one looks at the evidence gathered by a range of different bodies, including the European University Association. For example, between 2008 and 2013, inclusive, Ireland had an 18% increase in student numbers but a 29% decrease in public funding. Student numbers increased at a very significant rate, yet funding has fallen – this of course has had an effect in terms of declines in international rankings and student-to-staff ratios. Peter Cassells has stated that €1 billion is needed over the next 15 years by way of investment in third level to accommodate a growing population. We need to be clear about the urgency of introducing a new system for funding universities. But we also need to be very clear about the disadvantages of a deferred payment loan scheme.
“I believe that the student loan system proposed as one of the three potential funding options outlined in the Cassells report would have serious disadvantages; notably the fact that it would restrict access to disadvantaged students, who are traditionally more debt-averse; the fact that it would incentivise graduate emigration so as to avoid having to make repayments; and of course the fact that it would leave graduates saddled with heavy debts into the future. So I support the first option proposed by the Cassells report: an increase in state funding to ensure a publicly funded model, as is the norm in most European countries. Education must be seen as a right and not a privilege – at all levels.”