WITSU welcomes Taoiseach’s commitment on student costs

Eoghan Dalton Reports
The Taoiseach’s commitment to not introduce further costs for higher education are to be welcomed according to the president of Waterford Institute of Technology Students’ Union (WITSU), who says students are frightened of a potential income-contingent loan scheme.
During Leo Varadkar’s visit to Waterford at the start of the month, WITSU President Michael Murphy sought a commitment from him and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor that they will not introduce an income contingent loan scheme. Mr Murphy maintains the scheme would “essentially burden students with debt”.

WITSU President Michael Murphy.

WITSU President Michael Murphy.


A Government report recommended the scheme alongside two others in a document published two years ago. A State-led scheme where the majority of fees are covered by the Government is also on the table while the third option sees the State and students sharing the burden for fees.
WITSU’s key concern around the income contingency scheme is that it believes it will hit less well-off students the hardest.
“It’s the fact WIT has 61 per cent of our students on a SUSI grant. If that loan scheme came [then] that SUSI grant would no longer be there. That 61 per cent of students, they’re from a lower socio-economic background,” said Mr Murphy.
“Whilst we didn’t get an absolute confirmation from the Minister and the Taoiseach, the comments we received were very promising. They said they will not cause any ‘undue stress’ on students, and essentially made comments to say that they have no plans in the pipeline whatsoever for an income contingent loan scheme,” Mr Murphy told this paper.

“The Taoiseach did say that students should contribute to their college fees, but he said straight out that they should not be burdened with debt.”
During the event the Taoiseach told the audience that “there are no plans [on a loan scheme], but you can never say never”.
The comments come at a time when students at Trinity College Dublin have staged repeated sit-ins and shutdowns in protest against a flat fee of €450 for retaking failed exams. Among the aims of students in that campaign are for no more fee hikes.
Currently the registration fee for WIT is €3,000 – an amount Mr Murphy maintains is “not viable”. “Many people already face having to take out loans if they’re not in a privileged position where they’re able to get some sort of financial support from their parents,” he said.
The Government has committed itself to increasing employers’ contributions by 0.1 per cent, with the increase going towards higher education. It’s estimated €50-60 million will be raised by this fund per year for the sector.

However, Mr Murphy insisted the fight lowering fees back to pre-austerity levels continues.
“There wasn’t a commitment [from the Taoiseach] on lowering €3,000 but it is definitely not the new normal. We will continue to lobby the Government, we will continue to get our opinions across and say that €3,000 is simply too much. You’re coming to college to better yourself, and what’s that going to do other than better society? Education is an investment, it’s a simple public good. You invest in it, it’ll provide a higher return for the public in itself,” he said.
He agreed with aims looking to ensure WIT is upgraded to university status along with IT Carlow. “This is something that’s been talked about for too long. We need to develop the scale and quality of the education we are providing and we feel that a technological university will be able to benefit that.”

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