The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called for clarity from the government on the details of a new funding model for third-level education, as well as criticising plans to keep Ireland’s highest-in-the-EU student fees at their current level.
A new draft programme for government – agreed on by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens – commits to developing a “long-term sustainable funding model” for higher education, as well as a review of the SUSI grant and the maintenance of Ireland’s €3,000 student contribution charge.
USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick told The University Times today that the union is “extremely disappointed” that the government hasn’t committed to a specific model for higher education despite the existence of the Cassells report, which sets out three distinct options for funding the sector.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the actual decision isn’t within the document”, she said, referring to a call on a specific funding model. “It is there. It’s referenced, but I do think it is a little bit kicking the can down the road.”
She also criticised the new proposals for keeping fees – at €3,000, the EU’s highest – steady. “We’re extremely disappointed that there’s no reference to the introduction of publicly funded education, which would reduce and eradicate that fee”, she said.
“It’s the highest fee in the EU – and I know I’m quoted on that every day of the week, but that is the reality of the situation.”
Universities are facing huge financial problems as a result of the pandemic, Fitzpatrick said, so “the actual decision around what that funding model looks like is so important, and needs to take place so, so quickly”.
She said the reviews and reports committed to in the document – including one on the SUSI grant – are “very much welcomed”, but added: “We want to make sure the student voice is included within those reviews.”
On an issue that’s become highly contentious in recent years, the draft programme also promises more student accommodation is built, “using cost rental models and others”.
Fitzpatrick said USI welcomes the commitment to more affordable accommodation, but warned: “The last government strategy on student accommodation didn’t detail how the accommodation was supposed to be built, and that’s what’s left us in the situation where we are now – where there was so many private companies coming in, building purpose-built student accommodation for profit.”
“Overall, there is quite a bit to welcome, but it’s welcoming without the detail.”