STU­DENT CON­CERN MES­SAGE SENT OUT TO GOV­ERN­MENT Del­gany man leads col­lege fees protest

Bray People - - News - Mary FOG­A­RTY

DEL­GANY RES­I­DENT Hugh Sul­li­van, who is Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, was amongst those who protested re­cently at the an­nounce­ment that the re­turn of fees for third-level ed­u­ca­tion is back on the ta­ble.

Hugh was at the front­line, fight­ing the cause af­ter politi­cians from Fianna Fáil, The Greens and that PDs all gave a com­mit­ment dur­ing eh last elec­tion that third-level fees would not be on the agenda for the du­ra­tion of this gov­ern­ment, and to a pro­gramme of in­creased ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion.

‘The min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment flies in the face of this com­mit­ment,’ said Hugh. ‘Since the abo­li­tion of tu­ition fees in 1996 we’ve seen the big­gest rise in the num­bers of school-leavers con­tin­u­ing to higher ed­u­ca­tion now at over 50 per cent. This would have been un­think­able in Ire­land be­fore the abo­li­tion of fees.’

He ex­plained that the av­er­age cost of go­ing to third level ed­u­ca­tion in Ire­land is ¤38,000 for a four-year de­gree, and about ¤10,000 more than this in Dublin. ‘If the min­is­ter gets his way, this will rise to about ¤70,000,’ said Hugh. ‘I have friends in col­lege who do not qual­ify for the gov­ern­ment’s main­te­nance grand, and def­i­nitely would not have been able to go to col­lege in Dublin if it weren’t for the free fees scheme. I’m sure the same would be true for hun­dreds of stu­dents from Wick­low.’

Hugh added that in­de­pen­dent stud­ies have shown that fees have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on un­der-rep­re­sented groups at­tend­ing third-level ed­u­ca­tion.

‘A sys­tem that in­creased he over­all cost of col­lege would also en­cour­age higher take-up of bank loans and credit cards,’ he con­tin­ued. ‘In­creas­ing stu­dent debt and lev­els of hard­ship.’

Hugh said that the ar­gu­ment that the free-fees sys­tem is es­sen­tially a trans­fer of wealth from the bet­ter-off to every­one else s fun­da­men­tally flawed. ‘It does not take in to ac­count Ire­land’s tax sys­tem whereby those who earn more pay more. Over the course of their life­times, third-level grad­u­ates pay about 70 per cent more in tax and con­trib­ute more to the ex­che­quer.’

Ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer, the Aus­tralian model of stu­dent loans and in­creased tax­a­tion favoured by the min­is­ter does not work and is cur­rently un­der re­view. ‘The un­paid stu­dent debt stands at over AU$15 bil­lion. This has led to grad­u­ates less likely to buy homes, have chil­dren or take a hol­i­day due to the crip­pling life­time debt in­curred by go­ing to col­lege.’

Ex­plain­ing that the con­se­quences of the rein­tro­duc­tion of fees in­clude higher drop-out rates, a de­crease in the num­bers of peo­ple from lower and mid­dle-in­come fam­i­lies at­tend­ing col­lege, fall­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion rates in clubs and so­ci­eties, and fall­ing test scores due to stu­dents hav­ing to work longer hours, Hugh won­ders if that is the way to im­prove Ire­land’s knowl­edge-based econ­omy.

‘The rein­tro­duc­tion of fees has the po­ten­tial to ruin the ed­u­ca­tion of my gen­er­a­tion and those to come - your broth­ers, sis­ters and chil­dren,’ said Hugh. ‘The min­is­ter needs to take a sec­ond look at the long-term ef­fects of such a short-sighted pro­posal.’

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