Union of Students in Ireland says Quinn and Labour will pay for pricing Ireland’s youth out of third level education

The Union of Students in Ireland has launched a campaign to highlight its top five concerns with the new Bank of Ireland postgraduate loan scheme. The loan scheme was launched this month with the support of Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. It has been offered as a replacement for the postgraduate maintenance grant, which was scrapped by the Minister in Budget 2012.

USI has rejected the notion that this is an adequate substitute for the postgraduate maintenance grant.

USI and Students’ Unions around the country will be distributing information to our members to ensure that they are fully aware of the onerous terms of the bank’s loan scheme.

Our top five concerns are:

  1. The punitive interest rate. 10.8% compared to 0% for the scrapped postgraduate maintenance grant. Comparable loan schemes in the UK, which are offered by the State, have a 0% interest rate. A student can therefore expect to repay a total of €1500 in interest on a basic €5,000 loan.
  2. Those who need this most must have a bank account and a good personal credit history. Students with credit card debt, prior loan debt or significant overdraft debt have difficulty getting a loan. The credit history of parents will not be taken into account. Defaulting on the loan or avoiding the debt could result in problems in obtaining a car loan, mortgage etc.
  3. A student must have the means to begin repayments immediately. Repayments begin as interest only whilst studying, but when coupled with living costs this will be difficult to manage on top of a heavy academic workload. A student has to begin capital repayments three months after their postgraduate course ends, regardless of whether they’re in employment with a sufficient income level to cope with these increased payments.
  4. The loan scheme only covers tuition fees. Does the student have enough money for other costs e.g. rent, food?
  5. Unlike the scrapped State-provided maintenance grant or comparable State-provided loan schemes, this scheme is profit-driven and the terms reflect this. Because Bank of Ireland are not education experts, they haven’t made provision for the flexible nature of a student’s college career e.g. the transition from a taught Masters to a PhD or taking a sabbatical year out. Indeed, PhD courses are not included under the loan scheme at all.

USI is advising students to go to their local Students’ Union for advice on the options available to them.

USI Deputy President Kate Acheson said:

“This information campaign serves two purposes. First, it informs students of the harsh terms of this scheme. Second, it highlights the failings of the Minister in his negotiation of the scheme with Bank of Ireland.

At this point USI feels that some context is necessary to fully appreciate the situation third level students are in.

In 1996, the Labour Party Minister for Education Niamh Bhreathnach abolished third level fees. The intention was to eliminate financial means as an obstacle to third level education.

Sixteen years later, a Labour Party Minister for Education has seen fees rise to €2,250 and has stated that they will further increase to €3,000 by the end of his tenure.

Sixteen years after fees were eliminated a Labour Party Minister scrapped the postgraduate maintenance grant, which helped tens of thousands of students attain a ninth level qualification – qualifications that drove the smart economy.

Sixteen years after fees were eliminated a Labour Party Minister has presided over the introduction of two student loan schemes from a profit-driven bank. The schemes offer terms that are ill considered, punitive and thoroughly unfavourable when compared to schemes offered in other countries such as the UK and Australia; schemes that were rejected by both USI and the Minister’s predecessor, Fianna Fail’s Batt O’Keefe.

USI rejected the idea of a loan scheme because they invariably lead to the de-regulation of fees and a consequential ballooning of student debt. But Minister Quinn ploughed ahead regardless and in doing so he ensured that both he and his party will be abandoned by Irish students at the next local and general elections.

Twenty years after it eliminated fees, the Labour Party will rue the day it betrayed the promise it made to all those who aspired to pursue their education to its highest level.”  


For more information contact USI Media and Communications Executive, Ronan Costello, on 085-1164263 or email media@usi.ie