Download the USI Budget 2018 Submission here: USI Budget 2018 Submission

Education is a public good and should be treated as such. Properly funded third-level education is the foundation of job creation, social equality, and a thriving economy.

Meaningful investment in higher education is necessary if we are  to meet a myriad of state objectives, such as having a highly skilled workforce which will subsequently attract foreign direct investment, or to be a country which in world-renowned for research and innovation.

The third-level sector has struggled to perform during many years of austerity. USI believes that the sector should be praised for its efforts to deliver a quality education during a sustained period of under-investment and uncertainty. However, what is necessary as a response to crisis is not sustainable as a long-term model. It’s time to match talk of economic recovery with strategic investment in this essential public service.

As you will no doubt be aware, a key concern of hundreds of thousands of students and their families is the ever- rising cost of third-level education. Dramatic increases in accommodation costs, a persistent shortage in appropriate part-time work, and the burden of €3,000 fees contribute to a significant annual cost of around €11,000 to attend third-level. Against a backdrop of drastically reduced family incomes, this arrangement is not sustainable. Further, there has been no increase in the sufficiency of core student supports while these costs have risen. Students and families are actively and demonstrably struggling to make ends meet.

Last year, a number of options were put on the table to tackle the higher education funding crisis. Now is the time to act. We need an ambitious government who is determined to give education the priority it deserves after years of savage cuts and underinvestment. Higher education is under threat, not only due to the current insufficient levels of funding, but also because of the spiralling costs incurred by a students and their family. No person who wishes to pursue an education should be locked out due to either financial or societal barriers. We must strive for a higher education system that is valued by both government and society, and live up to our reputation of being an island of scholars.

In this document we outline a number of key areas in higher education we see as being crucial for investment in. The quality and accessibility of higher education is a key concern for many, and without proactive measures, we fear we will be faced with an underperforming, two-tiered higher education sector.

We encourage you to read this document and to take on board our recommendations below:

Proposal: For the Government to rule out any possible introduction of an income contingent loan scheme and to  reduce the Student Contribution Charge by a minimum of €250 and invest €1.26bn into higher education over the next decade.

Costing: €17m per €250 reduction per annum

Proposal: For the Government to restore grant for student teachers’ attendance at mandatory Gaeltacht courses.

Costing: €1m

Proposal: For the Government to overturn the decision in Budget 2014 to impose the new pro-rata Student Contribution and reinstate the State contribution to fund apprenticeship fees.

Costing: €3m to remove apprenticeship college fees annually

Proposal: For the Government to commit to part-time and further education students receiving the same supports that would be available to full-time students in similar circumstances and make a hardship fund available for students who are studying part-time and in further education

Costing: €5m  and €2.5m

Proposal: For the Government to commit to increasing the threshold and allocation given through the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant scheme.

Costing: €12.3m

Proposal: For the Government to reinstate the 2011 Adjacency Rates.

Costing: €27 million

Proposal: For the Government to reinstate Postgraduate Grants.

Costing: €53 million

Proposal: For the Government to begin phased restoration to 2012 rates of SAF to reflect the real costs attached to participation in Higher Level Education in Ireland.

Costing: €1m

Proposal: For the Government to ring-fence funding of €37.5m annually and to put emphasis on local 24/7 crisis intervention services.

Costing: €37.5m

Proposal: For the Government to invest in third-level mental health counselling.

Costing: €3m ring-fenced for student counselling and supports per annum

Proposal: For the Government to set the rate for all people under the age 26 to  currently on reduced Jobseekers rates should have their payments set at the minimum adult rate of €188 per week either immediately or over time

Costing: €24m or €149m