In the wake of the 2024 budget announcement, we here at the College Tribune thought it would be an interesting exercise to juxtapose parts of the actual budget with the UCDSU’s pre-budget submission to compare and contrast both what was requested and what was delivered but also the relative wisdom of the plans laid out both sets of pencil-pushers.
Both budgets featured an increase in the minimum wage, with the official increase to €12.70 falling just over a euro short of the UCDSU’s suggestion of a living wage of €13.85 (a figure suggested by the Living Wage Technical Group). A reduction in university fees was another area which featured prominently in both budgets.
Again both were in agreement regarding the direction of travel, however, the government’s €1,000 reduction (up to €1,500 depending on certain conditions) once again did not match the SU’s request (that being the total abolition of undergraduate university fees). On both of these counts, I would say that the government gets a pass as the SU did set some lofty targets.
The fees section of the SU’s budget submission also devoted a considerable chunk of its word count to demanding increased financial assistance for graduate medicine students, a subject which was not remarked upon in the government’s budget.
As a ‘GradMed’ student myself, this is a cause near and dear to my heart, and while I would welcome any reduction in fees, I fear calls to do so run the risk of missing the mark. The high fees paid by graduate (and non-EU) medicine students subsidise the education of Irish undergraduate medicine students and allow the government to expand the number of medical places available in medicine at a significantly cheaper price than would otherwise be the case.
As the SU’s budget submission rightly points out, there is a staffing crisis within Irish healthcare and, to my mind, a significant reduction to graduate medicine fees could worsen this situation by causing universities to draw back on plans to expand the numbers of undergraduate medicine places available.
Now leaving the fees as they are does immediately raise the rather large problem of plutocracy in medicine as clearly only financially comfortable students can contemplate undertaking the graduate route. This is why the creation of a government-backed, zero-interest loan scheme, hinted at but poorly outlined in the SU budget submission, would be the perfect tonic to this vexing ailment.
This would allow anyone who is accepted into graduate medicine to pursue their degree regardless of their financial status. Such a scheme is desperately needed as Bank of Ireland have recently pulled their graduate medicine-specific loan from the market. Perhaps the government, wondering what is in this for them (besides helping their electorate), could impose a condition on the loan mandating that one work in Ireland until it is paid off, solving the flight-to-australia-as-soon-as-qualified induced healthcare staffing crisis at a canter.
Another prominent feature of the SU’s budget submission which was largely ignored by the government was that of student accommodation. The government’s budget introduced some welcome tax credit chicanery designed to put some money back into student renter’s (and their parents’) pockets however there was a disappointing lack of money allocated to the building of new student housing.
Given the government’s unpopularity with young people, it boggles the mind to see student accommodation and housing for young people more generally given so little airtime in the budget leading into an election year. It’s almost as if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are purposefully attempting to alienate the next generation of voters so that their leaders can head off to retirement in the next few months.
Conor Power – Politics Correspondent