USI echoes UCD warning on places for Irish students

EU students face displacement by ‘more lucrative’ students from outside EU, union says

A USI student protest in  Dublin over third-level fees.  The USI remains opposed to the introduction of an income-contingent student loan system. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

A USI student protest in Dublin over third-level fees. The USI remains opposed to the introduction of an income-contingent student loan system. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has said it is concerned at comments made by the president of UCD in which he said the university might need to reduce the number of places to Irish students to preserve quality in the sector.

The union said it had warned “for many years” that colleges in Ireland would end up enrolling students from outside the EU “as a cash crop” in response to underfunding.

Commenting as the latest QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) world university rankings were published on Wednesday, UCD president Andrew Deeks said financial pressures could force the university to “seriously consider the option of reducing the number of places available to Irish students in order to preserve quality”.

He said the Government’s failure to fund the third-level sector meant it would have to look to other income – such as fees from non-EU students – to facilitate increases in staff numbers.

In a statement, the USI said: “We deplore that we’ve come to this situation, and so whilst we despair at the content, we welcome the candour of Prof Deeks’s statement, who has finally said out loud what we’ve warned for years.”

The union said Irish and EU students would make more room for the “more lucrative” students from outside the EU.

“Colleges are more than ever in the business of filling classrooms, and the rules allow non-EU students to be shaken down for much more money than EU students,” it said.

‘Concerned’

The USI also warned that Brexit might make Ireland “even more attractive” to overseas students and while it said it has always welcomed students from across the world, it was “concerned” that students from outside the EU could be exploited “to alleviate the underinvestment in Ireland”.

“As supporters of the local economy in this country, we worry that we are in danger of creating a college system which can’t afford to cater for the educational needs of Irish students, but instead effectively exports degrees,” it concluded.

Last July, a report produced by the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education for the Government and overseen by former trade union secretary Peter Cassells outlined three options for the future funding of higher education institutions.

They are: a higher education system funded by general taxation with no student contribution fee; an increase in State spending and the retention of the existing €3,000 student contribution charge; or an income-contingent loan scheme.

The USI remains opposed to the introduction of an income-contingent student loan system, supporting instead the introduction of a model where the system is funded by general taxation.