This week the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, announced a new higher education funding plan to address funding gaps and reduce costs for those attending university. While some have expressed cautious optimism about the plan, including Sinn Féin opposition spokesperson, Rose Conway-Walsh, the UCDSU President Ruairí Power said the proposals will leave some students “high and dry”

The policy launch called ‘Funding the Future’ includes increased government expenditure to plug the €307 million funding gap identified in the sector and a commitment to reduce the €3,000 student contribution fee for college students over a number of budgets. However, no date has been given as to when students will see the contribution charge cut.

Commenting on the publication of the report, Power said the “funding package announcement was a missed opportunity to reduce the excessive cost burden for students while plugging the gaps in core funding allocations in tandem.”

He added that “While a good stab has been made at addressing the core funding deficiencies, large cohorts of students will be left high and dry by lacklustre and non-committal measures to bring down the cost of attending further and higher education institutions.”

Elsewhere, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Higher and Further Education, Rose Conway-Walsh welcomed the proposals and encouraged the government to act on the recommendations. The Mayo TD said, “I welcome any progress towards finally bringing much-needed funding to the higher education sector and support for students and families.”

She added, “The Minister’s recognition that student fees at their current level are an austerity measure is an important step and shows they have come a long way since the forming of the department.” Deputy Conway-Walsh also shared some concerns about the lack of a firm timeline for the reduction of fees saying “This cannot be another announcement and another report highlighting the problems. We now need to see real action as a result.”

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions Education Sector Group welcomed the publication of the ‘Funding the Future’ plan. In a statement, the ICTU said the proposals were “a positive first step that has the potential to address the many problems faced by all who work and study in the sector.”

Karl Byrne, chair of the Sector Group said: “We see real potential in the plan to deliver major gains for the further and higher education sector as a whole, but a huge amount of detail needs to be worked out and we look forward to engaging on this through the implementation group established by the Minister.

Conor Paterson – Co-Editor