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The Union of Students in Ireland said they are against the introduction of a student loan scheme and said the Cassells Report must push forward publicly-funded higher education. USI stated that the funding option for a publicly-funded higher education is the only option that keeps social mobility on a level playing field, strengthens the economy, reduces minimum subsistence levels and decreases breadline anxieties. USI welcomes the inclusion of the free education option in the report.

The Cassells report will suggest that the current situation in third level education funding is unsustainable and that the existing state of affairs – referring to the dramatically decreased government funding, and a €3,000 student registration fee – is not an appropriate or endurable option.

Annie Hoey, USI President, said there will be three main suggestions put forward as solutions for funding third level education in Ireland, judging from leaked parts of the Cassells report. The first option will be a publicly-funded higher education system, which will include abolishing the current registration fee, with an increase in funding from state coffers and increased contribution made by employers.

“Publicly-funded higher education is the only long-term practical solution the Cassells report can suggest.” Hoey said. “Free education is absolutely vital for intellectual progression, personal growth and career development. Information is power, so education is empowerment.”

Minister for Education, Richard Bruton spoke about the importance of improving the higher education sector in Ireland –

“The higher education sector is at the heart of delivering on massive social and economic challenges, including providing better life opportunities for people from disadvantaged areas, training the skilled workers needed for a growing economy, and delivering major research and innovation projects to help solve the big problems of our time.”

The second option is maintaining the current registration fee and increasing state investment to compliment the shortfall in higher education funding. The Union of Students in Ireland said this second option would be casually casting aside the recent research and surveys conducted that heavily suggest students are already deterred by the registration fee, already at breaking point, and already steeped in debt and anxieties because of the cost of education. USI surveyed over 870 students across Ireland and found that 87% of students fear having to drop out of college because of the cost of education. 58.1% of students miss meals and more than a third (38.7%) of students said they go hungry to fund or stay in college.

“Irish third level fees are the second highest in Europe, after the UK.” Hoey said. “Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland all offer free education. The registration fee in France is €180 – €2,820 cheaper than the Irish registration fee. Publicly-funded free education is not impossible. If it was, so many other countries in Europe wouldn’t offer it.

“The third option, a deferred payment loan scheme, is impractical in practice and will deter students from applying to college. An already broken loan system will only further fracture the structure of the Irish education system. It will push people further away from applying to college and increase drop-out rates. Other countries in Europe offer better pay and lower registration fees, making the cost of education cheaper abroad.

“The student loan system crippled the government so much in the UK that they had to sell off the student loan books at the end of 2013. In America, education is the most expensive strain on the country, second only to military spending. In Australia, (the nearest model to the suggested Irish loan scheme), there are huge emigration problems. These are not models we want to mimic in Ireland, especially given how debt-adverse we have become as a nation. Quite apart from the horrific prospect of students faced with the accumulation of tens of thousands of Euros of personal debt, the loan system in the UK has been a comprehensive failure, with almost a 50% non-repayment rate. In Australia, a loans system has had one in three dollars written off, creating an enormous hole in the general economy.”

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