Yesterday, a motion from the Labour Party which included abolishing any existing university fees and to replace it with a "truly publicly funded higher education system in Ireland" was voted down in the Seanad. The Labour Party had called for the government to reject student loan schemes to fund their third-level education.
A funding model for higher education has been a significant issue for the Government after the release of The Cassell Report over two years ago - which was asked for by the Irish Government. The report suggested, “the removal of tuition fees in 1996/97 was not followed by a significant narrowing of the participation gap between social classes".
One possible measure would involve student loans, which would mean no fees at the entry of education, but loan repayments to be made from the income of the graduate once their employed.
The Labour Party's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin announced earlier this week that they're seeking to abolish students paying entry level fees for their courses entirely:
When it comes to higher education, we need to be ambitious and remove financial barriers to access education. A deferred payment scheme, which is an option proposed in the Cassells’ Report, would be disastrous for students in Ireland.This week in the Seanad, my Labour colleagues and I will be calling for increased state investment and a significant contribution from employers into higher education. Businesses benefit significantly from a highly educated workforce and their contribution to higher education should reflect that. The position of the Labour Party is clear, the Government should take the idea of student loans off the table - college fees should not rise, they should go.
Both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael included an amendment to Labours motion which the Seanad voted to support. The Seanad did not support the opposal to student loans motion as it stood from the Labour Party. The amendment will consider how higher education should be funded, with no mention of either a loan scheme or free education appearing in the amendment.
According to Trinity News, The President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) - who supported Labours motion - Michael Kerrigan revealed his disappointment over such a conclusion:
Not all of our Senators were brave enough to make the ambitious decision and reject an income contingent loan scheme, despite the obvious and unfair burden placed on students and their families. The message is loud and clear to future students: take your €20,000 debt, your degree, and get out.
The Labour Party are calling for an increase in state investment and a significant contribution from employers into higher education. The Cassell report stated a need to increase University and Institute of Technology’s budgets by €600m by 2021.