USI President Gary Redmond
USI President Gary Redmond

Thousands of students are expected to take to the streets on Wednesday following a weekend of alarming articles in two of Ireland’s national newspapers. The Sunday Business Post reports today that the government may scrap all financial assistance for new postgraduate students whilst the President of UCC has told the Irish Times that undergraduate student fees of at least €4, drugstore 500-€5, stuff 000 per year are necessary.

The Post (subscription) reports that the government is set to end all financial aid for new postgraduate students, students who are currently enrolled in postgraduate courses will continue to receive their grant until they finish their programme.

According to the Post some 40% (9,000) of postgraduate students this year currently have their fees paid by the state and receive a maintenance grant. Cutting financial assistance for new postgraduate students from next year will save €50 million annually, the Department of Education expects.

Gary Redmond, the President of the Union of Students in Ireland reacted to the news,“this proposal has been greeted with shock and dismay by students, parents and families. The Programme for Government promises a surgeon’s scalpel would be taken to waste and inefficiency in Higher Education. Instead a butcher’s cleaver appears to have been taken to student supports such as the Maintenance Grant.”

“In practice, entry to many professions requires some form of a postgraduate qualification. Families who are not in a position to pay fees for postgraduate courses and pay for other associated costs would find it impossible for their children to progress to postgraduate courses.”

He added, “This Government, and its predecessor, have spoken at length about the need to build a knowledge economy, the value of education and the need for Ireland to increase its R&D capacity. This proposal would mean that the number of students able be able to progress to Masters and Phd level would plummet, and Higher Education in Ireland would return to being the preserve of the wealthy elite.”

One final year UCD student who is planning on applying for several postgraduate programmes told the College Tribune, “This really throws a spanner in the works. I have worked so hard to keep my grade high so I would be accepted into the masters program that I wanted but if there is no grant and if I have to pay full fees I just won’t be able to do it. I hadn’t planned on marching this week as I didn’t think the cuts would affect me, but I know I will be going now.”

In what would appear to be a boost for the USI’s campaign targeted at the Labour Party, it is understood that at least ten Labour TDs who are concerned about education cuts met last week. The meeting took place outside the parliamentary party and one TD told the Post it represented “the first sign of a subtle resistance on a specific issue.”

UCC President Michael Murphy who says fees are necessary
UCC President Michael Murphy who says fees are necessary

Meanwhile UCC President, Dr. Michael Murphy has said that fees of €4,500-€5,000 per year are necessary to maintain the quality of higher education in Ireland at its current standard.

Speaking to the Irish Times,Murphy said that graduates benefit from a higher income and it is only right that those who can afford it are asked to make a more significant contribution.

Dr. Murphy, who at €232,000 is Ireland’s highest paid university President, defended his salary saying he is earning less than he was a decade ago and that compared to college heads in the UK he receives a relatively modest sum.

The USI’s “Stop Fees” demonstration will take place on Wednesday afternoon from 3pm in Dublin city centre.

Donie O’Sullivan


2 thoughts on “Grim weekend of news for third level students

  1. Here is the relevant Sunday Business Post article

    Cabinet to scrap all grants for postgrad courses
    13 November 2011 by Pat Leahy and Niamh Connolly

    The government is to abolish all financial support for new postgraduate students from next year, scrapping existing grants and maintenance support, The Sunday Business Post has learned.

    About 40 per cent of all full-time postgraduate students – some 9,000 this year – currently have their fees paid by the state and also qualify for maintenance grants.

    From next year, the state support will end for new students, in a move the Department of Education expects will save €50 million a year. Students currently enrolled on courses will be allowed to finish them with their grants for fees and maintenance intact.

    The state pays all undergraduate fees and also provides some maintenance grants for 44 per cent of all undergraduate students. However, two-thirds of postgraduates pay fees. Postgraduate students who qualify for grants receive an average of under €6,000 a year in fees and maintenance grants.

    The move comes after pressure on education minister Ruairi Quinn to find savings in his department’s €9 billion annual budget. Increasing numbers at primary level, with further increases to come given the high birth rate, will add further to the financial pressure. The funding squeeze is being particularly felt at third level.

    The move will increase pressure on Labour TDs, who are already nervous about education cuts. The Sunday Business Post has learned that a group of at least ten Labour Party TDs met last week in Leinster House to discuss their growing concern over the possible re-introduction of college fees.

    The meeting, which took place outside the parliamentary party, was described by the deputies as an “informal dialogue and exchange of ideas”. However, there are clear rumblings on the backbenches over the prospect of tuition fees.

    One TD who attended the adhoc meeting said it represented “the first sign of a subtle resistance on a specific issue”, while another said that a return to college fees would represent a “red line issue” for many deputies.
    Most of the TDs who attended the meeting were elected for the first time in February. They included Waterford TD Ciara Conway, Dublin west TD Patrick Nulty, Clare TD Michael McNamara, Dublin mid-west TD Robert Dowd, Galway east TD Colm Keaveney, Louth TD Gerard Nash and Dublin south TD Alex White.

    White described the meeting as “informal”, and played down its significance. But he said that “third level fees and university access was a big issue for the Labour Party, and would be regarded as a highly progressive achievement by the party when last in government”.

    Colm Keaveney said there was “nothing sinister about a group in the Labour Party sitting down and talking about any subject. We’re not a centrally-controlled organisation, and it’s about dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Nobody should feel threatened by it and nobody has picked up the phone to say that we cannot do this. Ruairi Quinn has a mature attitude towards the backbenchers”.

    Louth TD Gerard Nash said that “we want to ensure that, whatever happens in the budget, that third-level education is open to everyone – we don’t want to return to a situation where it is the preserve of privileged kids”.

    The meeting of Labour deputies came ahead of a mass rally of third-level students which is due to be held in Dublin next Wednesday. Gary Redmond, president of USI, said coaches would travel from every third-level college in the country for a rally at the Garden of Remembrance, and a march to Government Buildings on Merrion Street.

    Concern is growing in the Labour Party at the prospect of an embarrassing u-turn on a core party pledge given on third-level fees before the general election. Ruairi Quinn signed a pledge on February 21 – four days before the election – not to reinstate student fees, but has declined calls by USI to re-affirm his commitment to the pledge since his party entered government.
    It was a Labour education minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, who abolished fees in 1995. Quinn was finance minister at the time.

  2. It’s all very well and good for Dr. Murphy to defend his salary by saying he earns a modest sum in comparison to those in the UK, but the thing is, the UK aren’t in as bad a recession as us. They’re not experiencing as many cuts. And even if he is earning less than he was a decade ago, he’s still earning more than the majority in the country. Of course he’s going to say that fees of €4500-5000 are acceptable, that’s probably just small change to him. But what about those who only have one parent earning a wage and there’s more than one student in the family?

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