Leading student groups, including Free Education for Everyone (FEE ) and the Union of Students in Ireland (USI ), have attacked the decision of more than 20 third level institutions, including NUIG and GMIT, to agree a student fees loan deal with the Bank of Ireland.
The loan system will be paid directly to the third level institutions involved, meaning that students will not be able to apply for the loan directly, however they will incur the debt the moment they graduate. Trinity College and Bank of Ireland announced the first scheme last month, which will allow parents to borrow up to €9,000 for a four-year degree. Repayments are to be set at €100 per month, with a variable interest rate of 5.1 per cent while a student remains in third level education. The interest rate is then set to rise to 9.7 per cent once a student graduates.
Further to this, there are concerns that such a scheme may permit the Government to raise fees in the future, with an assurance to parents that these loans will cover any hike introduced. Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has indicated that the registration fee for third level education, currently set at €2,250, will most likely rise to €3,000 within the next few years. However, the Department of Education also maintains that the new loan scheme is not part of the Department’s plans to change its funding model for third level education. There is a concern by many student groups, including FEE and USI, that these loans will get larger, with the amount of time that either the parents or the student is saddled with such debt being increased.
USI president John Logue has expressed concern about the long-term effects of the loan scheme. He said: "The scheme could lead to a steep increase in fees, as it gives the Government the impression that finance is available to cope with such increases. If this were to occur, it would not be long before we find ourselves in a comparable situation to the United States, where graduates are burdened with massive debt upon leaving college because they have to take out ever-more-onerous loans to pay for steep increases in fees."
NUI Galway postgraduate history student Gerard Madden said: “This represents yet another example of the neo-liberal assault on Irish education, with corporate interests yet again infringing on third level in a wholly disastrous fashion for students. After the well-chronicled problems with the student loan system in the US and elsewhere, with the number of people who are simply unable to repay rising constantly, it boggles the mind that a representative of student interests like DCU Student Union president Paul Doherty can believe a system which ladens students with debt will ‘ease the financial strain on many students and their families’. Third level institutions are not corporate entities but providers of a social good which should be attainable by academic merit and not by the financial means of one’s parents, and embracing progressive taxation as the model to fund third level is the best way of achieving this.”
FEE is a nation-wide grassroots campaign dedicated to fighting cutbacks to all levels of the education system as part of the wider campaign against austerity and the policies of the Troika. Recent actions by the group include participation in the protests at the Labour Party conference in NUI Galway last April, and the occupation of Fine Gael Deputy Eoghan Murphy’s office in Ranelagh, Dublin, last December.