The Union of Students in Ireland has welcomed the allocation of €36.5 million to the third level sector in the Budget but has emphasised that the funding is insufficient by over €100 million. The union recommended spending of €140million in their pre-budget submission to reduce registration fees and increase student support. The Budget allocated €4 million to reinstate maintenance grants from September 2017 for the most disadvantaged postgraduate students. USI welcomed the reintroduction of postgraduate grants but emphasised that it would only benefit 1,100 students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, and further investment would be needed.
The union also welcomed the increase in the threshold for the ‘rent a room’ scheme, up from €12,000 to €14,000 which they said will benefit both homeowners and students, but USI President Annie Hoey emphasised that digs was a short-term solution and purpose-built student housing needed to be invested in as a long-term solution. The Budget allocated an additional €160million in total current funding for third level education over three years, the first significant expansion in Government spending on higher education after a decade in which such spending was cut by 33%, but USI said it was €200 million short of what the Cassells report identified as necessary in the same period.
The union said that there is a global shift in favour of publicly-funded education because it benefits every sector of society – the economy, employment, culture, health, science, tech and transport, and the government not prioritising it with sufficient funding stunts the development of a generation.
“Any investment in education is something USI welcomes and the small steps in Budget 17 are in the right direction but are hugely insufficient in the long-term.” Annie Hoey, USI President, said. “The government failing to prioritise adequate funding for third level education is the government putting barriers to the futures and potential of thousands of students. There are some positives in the Budget but the funding is still inadequate and won’t solve the rotating problems currently in third level education, which are largely funding-based.”
USI will be staging a national demonstration in favour of publicly-funded education on the 19th October calling on the government to invest in publicly-funded education. The demonstration will be supported by almost 2 million union members from national unions including the INMO, The National Parents Council PostPrimary, NYCI (National Youth Council of Ireland), EQUATE, TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland), ARC, See Change, St. Pats Mental Health Services, ReachOut, the INMO (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organsiation), ICTU Youth Committee, ISSU Youth, the Irish Rugby Union Players Association, Dundalk Outcomes, TUI, SIPTU, IFUT, IMPACT and Youth Work Ireland – totaling almost 2 million members (1,992,760 in total). USI is inviting members of the public to join them in their demonstration to call on the government to commit to publicly-funded education.