Sunday 19 January 2020

Ministers' suggestions on university costs 'are sugar-coating reality'

Mary Mitchell O’Connor joined students Beth Clarke, Saoirse Mangan and Heidi Doris as they received their Leaving Cert results.
Mary Mitchell O’Connor joined students Beth Clarke, Saoirse Mangan and Heidi Doris as they received their Leaving Cert results.

A leading third-level students' representative has branded controversial suggestions from two education ministers about how youngsters can afford to go to university as "alarming".

Union of Students Ireland (USI) vice-president for the Dublin region Craig McHugh said young people, particularly from poorer backgrounds, face huge obstacles to being able to go to university.

This is most urgently due to rising rental costs and stagnated student grants added to the cost of fees, he said.

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor said earlier this week that students could utilise the Susi (student grant scheme) to pay for their accommodation.


Meanwhile, Education Minister Joe McHugh said families who could not afford to send their children to university should consider more affordable options such as regional colleges.

However, his namesake at the USI said: "To be quite honest, the comments by the two education ministers in one week were alarming.

"The comments do not reflect the barriers to higher education in Ireland, which have never been as high as now.

"There was an attempt by two government ministers to sugar-coat those barriers, but those issues are very real.

"We have among the highest rents in Europe and the second-highest fees, but the message the Government ministers are sending out is, if you can afford to go to college, good on you, if you can't, good luck.

"The education minister said people should look at regional options - which are excellent - but he shouldn't be telling young people if they can't go to university in a city due to huge rental costs, they need to study a course they might not want to study.

"This is shutting doors on young people, putting up barriers to a public education system, and the grants were cut in 2008 and frozen in 2011.

"The grant is by no means enough for those that get them, to pay rent which is too high for students."

Fianna Fail education spokesman Thomas Byrne said: "I completely agree with the USI.

"Through neglect and omission, the ladder has been pulled up and that's wrong.

"As a state and society, we have to allow all people to aspire to university, but the comments of two ministers this week have downgraded and devalued that right.

"We are badly letting our young people down.

A Department of Education spokesman said: "The Government's commitment to higher education is clearly demonstrated by the increase in current spending of almost €350m since 2015, an increase of almost 25pc.

"Current investment spending on higher education is now more than €1.7bn."

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