Galway's students have spoken out unanimously against any potential plans to introduce an income-contingent loan scheme for higher education funding.
Both GMIT Students' Union and NUI Galway Students' Union called on the support of senators for a Labour private members motion, which rejects any moves to implement the loan scheme and calls for a publicly funded third level education system in Ireland.
Three possible options have been put forward for higher education funding in Ireland, outlined in last year's Cassells report. The three options being, getting rid of the student contribution and the creating a mostly State-funded sytem, continuing the current student contribution charge coupled with increased State investment, or introducing an income-contingent loan system.
The national students' union, USI, has highlighted how a 363 per cent increase in the student contribution charge from €825 to €3,000 has taken place, while State funding has dropped almost 40 per cent, from €1.4 billion to about €860 million.
Speaking on the issue, GMIT Students' Union president Mark O'Brien said, "A decision to go ahead with an income-contingent loan scheme will increase emigration and sends a clear message to our future students: take your €20,000 debt, your degree, and get out.
"We see mature students coming in expressing how they have so much debt already and how they have a constant weight on their shoulders to ensure they maintain weekly loan payments and feed their family. Senators need to vote in favour of a public investment in education and see loans are the wrong choice for our communities across Galway."
NUI Galway Students' Union president Lorcán Ó Maoileannaigh said, “I study medicine and I’ve seen friends who have studied health care courses drowning in debt already. Because of the financial difficulties with placement, for example, for healthcare students and the duration of the courses being between four and six years, they now have €6,000 - €10,000 loans in their credit union account.
"The people who are on the frontline every day saving lives and dealing with the health of our country should not be burdened with debt. A student loan will just ship our teachers, doctors, and nurses abroad to pay off their debt - or never repay it all. It’s time our Government made a brave decision and publicly invest now."
USI estimates that there will be a need for additional annual higher education funding of €600 million by 2021, and €one billion by 2030, to deliver higher quality outcomes and provide for increased demographics.