Higher education funding plan a ‘huge disappointment’, says USI

A new report on higher education funding is “not what students need” and does not go far enough in cutting costs, a group of students say.

The report, which has been widely welcomed by industry players, made sweeping recommendations for the development of Universities of Technology (UTs) and increased state support for the sector, which has been underfunded. since the last recession.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee released a report on future funding for the sector on Wednesday, noting an increase in funding from the Treasury, a new prioritization of Technological Universities (TUs) and an overhaul of the SUSI grant system.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said it was a “huge disappointment” not to see a commitment to a fully state-funded higher education system, but that it was a “step in the right direction”.

The report recommends less reliance on private funding for the sector, something student activists have campaigned for in recent years. But for Beth O’Reilly, president of the USI, it is “very late”.

‘[T]he cost of attending higher education in Ireland is the biggest barrier to entry into higher education, said USI President Beth O’Reilly. Photo: Conor McCabe

“There is no commitment strong enough to reduce the student contribution charge,” they said, and called for an end to the student contribution charge of €3,000 per year.

“Not only do we have the highest tuition fees in the EU, but the cost of attending higher education in Ireland is the biggest barrier to entry into higher education:

Now it’s getting to the point where completing a four-year degree, including living costs, can cost €50,000.

The group of students were “really happy” to see a commitment to reforming the SUSI scholarship system.

“Especially with the rising cost of living, we haven’t really seen SUSI being linked to inflation in any way. As a result, students are really being left behind as the cost of living rises “, they said.

The report “points very strongly to the potential of technology universities and the need to invest in [them]said Dr. Joseph Ryan, chief executive of the Technological Higher Education Association (Thea).

“I think there is a real will to make sure that meaningful changes are made.”

The recommendation for an increase in UT borrowing capacity for student accommodation was welcomed by Mr Ryan.

“I think there is a realization that separating student accommodation from general accommodation could be helpful, as students will have a very hard time finding budget accommodation over the next year.”

“The details will have to be worked out, and there will be challenges with that,” he said. “So we’re going to have a lot of interesting discussions over the next two years.”

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • An increase in union funding by mid-2023;
  • Towards a European model where higher education is considered as a good of the State and financed mainly by the Treasury:
  • Review of precarious employment conditions in the sector:
  • An increase in the borrowing capacity of TUs to finance student housing, infrastructure and research;
  • A review of the SUSI scholarship system and a reform by the end of 2022 which should take into account the increase in the cost of living;
  • An emergency student housing task force should be established;
  • All higher education institutions should become sanctuary colleges and welcome refugees seeking refuge in Ireland.

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