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