Graduates could pay up to €150 a month for 15 years under loan scheme

System would not deter students from disadvantaged areas, Oireachtas committee told

A college graduate could expect to pay €100-€150 per month over 10-15 years if a student loan scheme is introduced in Ireland, according to experts.

Aedin Doris, an economics lecturer at Maynooth University, said the calculation was based on a conservative assumption that a graduate's real wages would not grow for the foreseeable future.

Dr Doris was speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, which is examining new proposals to fund the higher education system.

There is widespread agreement that the third level sector is in crisis following years of funding cuts and rising student numbers.


An expert group, chaired by former trade union leader Peter Cassells, has proposed a number of new funding models, including an income-contingent loan scheme for students, along with greater contributions from the State and employers.

Dr Doris told the committee that income-contingent loans differed crucially from regular loans in that graduates only begin to repay debts when their income reaches a certain threshold.

“It is debt that has to be repaid only if the graduate can afford it,” she said. “Repayments fall to zero in months when earnings are low or zero. Thus, there is no possibility of hardship due to loan repayments.”

Drive students away

Despite claims that a student loan scheme would drive low-income or disadvantaged students away from higher education, she said that has not been the case in other jurisdictions.

Mr Cassells told the committee it was clear that the current funding system was broken and the status quo was no longer an option.

“The current system fails to recognise the pressures facing higher education institutions and the scale of the coming demographic changes,” he said. “It also fails to fully recognise the pressures on families and students, not just because of the €3,000 fee, but also the high living and maintenance costs associated with studying and successfully progressing through college.”

A number of academics from universities also described to the committee how underfunding was impacting on the quality of tuition. Several spoke of the fact that larger classes, reduced access to tutorials and outdated equipment were now a feature of higher education.

Larger classes

Niamh Hourigan, head of UCC's department of sociology, said a reduction in staff and rising student numbers had forced academics to create larger classes.

“The person we’re most afraid of is the fire officer,” Dr Hourigan said. “We have large modules and very often we can’t fit them in a single room.”

John Boland of Trinity College Dublin said universities were now at risk of losing accreditation for skills-based programmes because of the reduced hands-on time available for students in some courses.

Caroline McMullen of Dublin City University said staff have gone to great lengths to reduce the impact of falling investment on students.

But she warned: “Quality cannot be sustained in the long term, no matter how much we try to minimise the impact on our students.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent