Shortage of college places looms unless State invests in higher education, say campaigners

Students and lecturers stage lunchtime protests to highlight ‘growing crisis’

Kevin Donoghue, of Forsa, Karl Byrne of Siptu, Séamus Lahart, President TUI and Zak Aboukrhes of ISSU with Síona Cahill, president of USI at a protest in Trinity college Dublin to highlight concerns  about investment in Irish higher education. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Kevin Donoghue, of Forsa, Karl Byrne of Siptu, Séamus Lahart, President TUI and Zak Aboukrhes of ISSU with Síona Cahill, president of USI at a protest in Trinity college Dublin to highlight concerns about investment in Irish higher education. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

There will not be enough college places over the coming years to cope with a demographic bulge unless there is more State investment in higher education, campaigners have warned.

Third level students and lecturers across college campuses staged lunchtime protests on Thursday to highlight a “growing crisis” in higher education funding.

State funding for third level fell by almost 40 per cent as a result of austerity-era cost-cutting between 2008 and 2015 at a time of rising student numbers, according to campaigners.

While the Government says it has invested millions of euro in extra funding in recent years, campaigners say only a fraction of what was cut has been replaced.

A coalition campaigning for publicly funded education - which includes the Union of Students of Ireland, Irish Secondary Students’ Union and trade unions representing teaching staff - said demographic pressure is set to peak in 2030 with an additional 40,000 students seeking access to third level.

However, they said there was no guarantee there will be enough places to cope with demand based on current funding levels.

USI president Síona Cahill said lack of investment currently meant students and families are shouldering some of the most expensive college charges in Europe.

“Currently, the annual student contribution charge stands at a staggering €3,000. Between the years 2007-2014, this increased by a whopping 363 per cent,” she said.

“The sobering facts for students today is that at €3,000, Ireland will have the highest fees in the EU after Brexit. Meanwhile, Susi grants have not increased for students in line with the cost of living and soaring rents in Ireland today.”

She said protests on Thursday by students and staff across college campuses sent a strong message that “we will not be an easy target for cuts”.