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The Lowdown on Student Loans

On Wednesday the 19th October some 5000 students are expected to descend upon the streets of Dublin. No, they’re not there for a Coldplay concert, they’re there to protest the Government’s desire to introduce a student loan scheme following the publication of the Cassells Report, a report on the future of third level education. Here’s what you need to know:

What’s Happening?

Third level education has seen massively decreased funding since the recession. State funding for third level institutions has dropped by 40% in the last 9 years. As a result, University fees were increased accordingly, but failed to cover the overall loss. As UCC and third level institutions in Ireland regularly fall in the QS World University rankings in recent years, no one can deny that this is at least in part due to the lack of funding that leads to higher student-lecturer ratios, reduced ability to produce research and the general lack of adequate funding to compete. Student numbers are expected to swell by a third in the next decade, so: who’s going to pay for it?

The report

Peter Cassels (former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions),headed a group that published a report on the state of third level funding in Ireland, and how to address the ever-growing deficit. The experts came up with 3 options: free education funded entirely by the state, maintaining the €3000 charge plus increased state funding or increased fees upfront,  paid for by a student loan scheme.

Why is this bad idea?

Student loans are inherently unfair for people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and will actively deter people from applying for places in college. There is also the issue of how much fees will increase; in the UK it is estimated that 50% of students have difficulty repaying student loans. In Australia they have similar issues, and in the USA student debt is estimated at costing over 1 trillion dollars. Precedence has shown that these systems are massively exploitative, as well as unsustainable in the long run.

How do we fight back?

On Wednesday the 19th October, students from third level institutions across Ireland are gathering in Dublin to show the government that we will not stand for this. Publically funded education is the right of every citizen in Ireland. The money needs to come from somewhere, we can all agree on that. In a country where we pride ourselves on being on the forefront of science and computing research, how can we expect to keep our edge when we are competing against better-funded institutions globally? There is a better way of handling this rather than punishing students to the brink of financial ruin, yet again. Write to your local TD, ring public officials and go to the protest on the 19th. Make your voices heard more than they ever have before.

For more information on the march on the 19th you can contact the Union of Students in Ireland by emailing info@USI.ie, or by tweeting @TheUSI. You can also contact UCC Students’ Union Deputy President on Deputy@UCCSU.ie or by calling (021) 490 3218.