Students concerned over loan scheme plan


THERE WAS widespread criticism from student leaders of a proposed loan scheme for students contained in the Hunt report on higher education.

The scheme would see graduates repay an estimated €25,000 along with the introduction of fees up front for certain courses.

The report, published on Tuesday, indicated that the measures were necessary to help cover the estimated €500 million in additional funding required due to the record number of applications for third-level courses.

“I would have huge and grave concerns about the student loan scheme and graduate taxation”, said Gary Redmond, president of the Union of Students in Ireland.

“This is a small country with a history of emigration. We are part of the EU and it is very easy to leave and work elsewhere.

“Why would I stay here if it means I would have to pay back all that money when I could just emigrate? Right now we are investing in education for emigration,” he said.

Mr Redmond said graduates already contributed more than most as, on average, they fell into a higher tax bracket. Students were also already subject to increased registration fees of €2,000.

Instead of burdening them with additional costs, he asked the Government to look elsewhere for the funding needed.

“They should look at the Croke Park deal again, not at people coming in at the entry-level scale but the people at the top of the scale. There is a lot of money to be saved there.

“Bring in more students from abroad like the Far East, not to the detriment of Irish students but they pay a lot more for college and it is good for all students, it creates a diverse experience and culture which is important for going into the workplace.”

He also suggested that the prospect of being in debt following a degree would lessen the universal accessibility of higher education.

“Students of a lower socio-economic background don’t like being burdened by debt. They are told not to since an early age and recent economic happenings have instilled that further.

“They will not go into higher education if they know it is going to burden them with debt.”

University of Limerick’s student union president Ruán Dillon-McLoughlin said he was saddened to see further costs being placed on already stretched students.

“It encourages what has become a cliche term at this stage, but a brain drain from the country. We are prone to travelling and emigration already and there will be no incentive to come back if they have to pay.

“We are going to lose the investment we made,” he said.

For Gráinne Conway, a second-year science student in NUI Galway, the choice between paying back a large debt and emigrating is simple.

“I’m getting out of this country as soon as I can,” she said. “I’m sick of the Government and it’s not a fair burden.”

One sample case to which many student representatives have pointed is New Zealand. A student loan/graduate taxation system there has led to many graduates emigrating for work abroad to avoid payments.

Paul Lynam, student union president in UCD, said: “It is a short-sighted, poor idea. We see how much of a disaster it is in New Zealand. One in four graduates there is working in Australia now, which is a good comparison for us because we have a bigger economy [Britain] beside us too.”