At the launch of a three-year plan for his department, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, made statements condemning student loans. The Minister went on to say that higher education, like first and second-level education, should be free to access.
Harris’ stance on student loans is as follows: “I am not a fan of student loans. I am not convinced they work, quite frankly. I actually think they can act as a barrier for people from social economically disadvantaged communities in terms of their risk of taking on debt.”
Regarding his belief that higher education should be free to access, Harris was aware of the controversy this could bring. He referenced the fact that second-level education was not made free until the late 1960s by then education minister Donogh O’Malley. O’Malley faced criticism from officials in the wake of that decision.
Harris continued by saying that when a decision has to be made, the following three elements should be considered: what the level of underfunding is, what is needed to provide “proper student support”, and how much does the current registration fee of €3,000 per student annually contribute to the sector.
Harris’ three-year plan comes as part of an initiative to recover monies lost from the international student sector. The plan involves a reform of the CAO system which incorporates apprenticeships and further education for the first time. It will also change the credit systems for courses, enabling students with a further education and training certificate to continue their education and earn a degree. Students submitting CAO applications next year will have the option of choosing apprenticeships as well as level 4 and level 5 courses run by colleges of further education and local education and training boards.
Rosie Roberts Kuntz – Assistant News Editor