Union of Students in Ireland
USI President sets out student choices for the future of higher education in Ireland
Ireland’s education system could be a world leader, where students ought never be constrained by their ability to afford courses, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick has told an education sector seminar today.
The leader of Ireland’s students was speaking in response to remarks by Minister for Higher and Further Education Simon Harris at the Future Forward event ‘Investing in Education in a Post COVID world’ hosted by the Education Futures Coalition and the Education division of ICTU in which speakers outlined their views for the future of the sector.
According to Fitzpatrick, a review of the student funding system is urgently required to ensure that those who need support to attend college can do so without worrying about the financial costs and instead concentrating on the academic requirements of their chosen course.
Addressing the need for a revised funding model for the sector, she lamented education institutions being forced to behave as businesses and said:
“The strategy for funding higher education really boiled down to the managed decline of state funding and increased importance placed upon the diversification of income for institutions. Diversifying income and reduced core state funding has lead us to the place we are today with media reporting that our sector is facing a financial deficit of approx. €500 million.”
In a wide-ranging series of remarks, she observed that the €3,000 per annum contribution charge for higher education is the highest in the EU, and that the cost of accommodation has risen to the extent that the maximum possible SUSI grant is no longer capable of covering even rent in many locations across Ireland, let alone the cost of food, books and transport.
Addressing the COVID crisis, she observed that, with blended and distance learning becoming the norm, artificial barriers to SUSI support for part time and distance learners ought to be removed.
Whilst she welcomed the enhanced supports available to students in light of COVID-19, on mental health and a renewed focus on preventing sexual assault on campus, she concluded that more needed to be done to address the central issue of access for all students who would benefit from Higher Education – and that this would be best addressed in a publicly funded higher education system.
The Education Futures Coalition, formerly known as the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education, is a collaboration between IFUT, SIPTU, FORSA, USI, ISSU and the TUI.