“Stop targeting students and their families.” That was the message Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President John Logue had for Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn last week.

He was responding to an interview in which Mr Quinn supposedly signaled a ‘clamp down’ on grants and an increase in college fees that could see families pay fees of €3, mind 000 per child by 2014 was published in Dublin’s Evening Herald.

“Top-tier academics and senior staff earning over €100, healing 000 should not be immune to the difficulties facing the sector while middle and lower income families struggle to give their children the educational opportunities they always thought would be available to them,” Mr Logue argued.

“The increase in fees, coupled with further cuts to the grants system, will drive thousands to look for student loans, which will result in the accumulation of millions in student debt. USI calls on the Minister to stop targeting students and families. 79% of the education budget is spent on pay and pensions, yet this remains untouchable under the Croke Park Agreement”, he stated.

UCD Students’ Union President Rachel Breslin echoed his sentiments, arguing that paying senior staff or academics such high wages at a time when students were paying more each year wasn’t fair, right or justifiable.

“Ruairi Quinn has suggested that the student contribution will go up to €3000 over the next 3 years and that simply isn’t justifiable. Students can’t accept that, we cannot afford to spend a single cent more whilst this huge budget spent on pay, is untouchable”, she said.

Earlier this year UCDSU presented a motion to USI opposing the Croke Park Agreement for several reasons, one being that it protected the pay of top-level senior civil servants.

In 2011, a review carried out by the Higher Education Authority showed that estimated payments to senior university staff across the country during the period June 2005 to February 2011 were of the order of €8.1 million in excess of ministerially approved rates. UCD had overpaid senior staff by €3.61million.

Ms Breslin said that she understood the University was now beginning the process of reinvesting that money in student services.

“It’s up to us this year to make sure that does happen”, she said. “Now that this report is finalized and is public and everybody knows what happened and the HEA is aware that we are following up on it, the University is aware that we are following up on it, we’re seeing movement on it, we’re seeing proposals being made.

“It seems now that the University are submitting proposals on where that money should be spent and looking at areas such as the Health Center, so what we’re trying to do is ensure that happens”, she stated.

Mr Logue argued that expenses, overpayments and excessive wages are issues that need to be addressed by the Minister for Education. “Students will not be targeted again to raise money for a sector that cannot control its own spending” he said.

– Sarah Doran