Students call on Taoiseach to commit to publicly-funded higher education system

Leo Varadkar rules out student loans or increases in annual €3,000 contribution

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is not inclined to go down the road of increased student contributions or a student loan system. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he is not inclined to go down the road of increased student contributions or a student loan system. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Student groups have welcomed comments from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar which appear to rule out a student loan scheme or increase in fees for higher education.

Until now, Mr Varadkar has voiced his opposition to “US or UK-style” student loans schemes but has not ruled out other loan schemes which involve smaller levels of debt.

In the Dáil on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar said he was “very reluctant” to see student contributions being raised beyond €3,000 or to go down the model of a student loan system.

He said he had seen in other countries how loan schemes have left students graduating from college with very large debts.

“To a certain extent that is true in England and it is very true in the United States. That has long-term consequences. One of the reasons healthcare is so expensive in the United States is that people graduate from medical and nursing school with such high debts. That gets reflected on in terms of the cost of healthcare,” he said.

“I am not enthusiastic about or inclined to go down the road of increased student contributions or a student loan system for that reason.”

Protests

Responding to the Taoiseach’s comments, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Síona Cahill noted that his comments followed joint student and staff protests around the country last week on funding third level.

“The Taoiseach has finally spoken on the issue of student fees to access higher education after what has been a deafening silence,” she said.

“What we demand now is action, doing nothing is not an option. We need a publicly-funded education system that is accessible, high quality and fit for purpose. I have requested a meeting with the Minister of State for Higher Education as a matter of urgency to discuss this further.”

Ms Cahill said that if urgent action is not taken, there was a real risk that today’s seven and eight-year old primary school students will not have sufficient college places available to them in 2030.

This is because a demographic bulge is due to peak with an additional 40,000 students seeking to access third level.

She said the current student contribution charges of €3,000 means Ireland will have the highest fees in the EU after Brexit,

“This is affecting access particularly for the most marginalised or disadvantaged. Meanwhile, Susi grants have not increased for students in line with the cost of living and soaring rents in Ireland today since 2012.”