Professor Vincent Cunnane, the President of LIT, has warned against the dangers of income-contingent loans (ICLs) as the sole means of financing third level education, describing it as a potentially significant barrier to education.
According to Dr Cunnane, “ICLs might provide a short-term cash injection to the exchequer, but our students, society and eventually the state will pay far too high a price for this questionable option.” His comments were made during his speech at the Limerick Institute of Technology’s annual conferring ceremony.
Addressing 1,700 graduates, Professor Cunnane said that any move to implement this particular recommendation would curtail access to further higher education for low income and potentially middle-income families.
“More and more evidence is emerging against the option of introducing fees for all students, removing grant aid and relying on ICLs as a sole form of financing education in this country.
“An IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies) report into the funding of higher education in England has found the abolition of maintenance grants and introduction of such loans has left students from the poorest 40% of families graduating with the largest debt, and middle-income earners carrying the greater burden when it comes to repayment,” said Professor Cunnane.
“I have heard the argument that the student benefits most from an education and therefore they would pay the full price,” continued the LIT president. “Yes the individual benefits, but it is our society, our state and our government that ultimately benefits most.”
“The danger of relying solely on ICLs to fund our education system is to risk access to education for those who most benefit from it,” said Professor Cunnane.
Earlier in the year the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) strongly opposed any moves to implement an income-contingent loan scheme. USI President Michael Kerrigan warned that such a loan scheme would only increase emigration among graduates. “An income-contingent loan scheme will send a clear message to our future students: take your €20,000 debt, your degree, and get out.”
Kerrigan has pointed out that Irish higher education fees are the 2nd highest in Europe after the UK. He added, “we’ve seen in the UK that the poorest students will graduate with £57,000 debt hanging over their heads. If our Government reduced fees by a minimum of €250 a year over the next decade we can actually claim to be an island of saints and scholars, and not debtors and emigrants”.