On the 5th of April 2017, Deputy Broughan hosted a briefing in Leinster House by representatives from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) on proposals for the funding of Higher Education in Ireland. Students and their representatives are concerned that the Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, is planning to bring forward income-contingent loans, rendering future third-level students debt-ridden and forcing others out of higher education altogether.

The Report “Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education – Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education” led by Mr Peter Cassells published on the 11th of July 2016 (the Cassells Report) set out the following options for consideration by the Government:

1) Funding Option One: A predominantly state-funded system.

2) Funding Option Two: Increased state funding with continuing student fees.

3) Funding Option Three: Increased state-funding with deferred payment of fees through income contingent loans (which would, of course, be state-backed should this option be progressed).

The Government seem to be focussing all of its energy on how to bring about Option Three, yet earlier this week a report by Dr Charles Larkin, commissioned by the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA), found that such a system would add approximately €10 billion to our already huge national debt. The USI also presented its own research and policy paper on the matter to a well-attended briefing yesterday. International research supports the USI’s claims that income-contingent loans often end up costing the State more in initial set-up and unpaid loans, restricts those from lower socio-economic backgrounds from attending third level AND can adversely affect graduates’ ability to purchase homes, etc.

Minister Bruton also confirmed that he is pushing ahead with a feasibility study on student loans without consulting the Education Committee, which is already examining this topic. This news, which was in response to Parliamentary Questions asked by Deputy Thomas Pringle and Deputy Tommy Broughan, shocked Dáil Éireann yesterday –

Deputy Broughan says “The opposition to student loans has significant cross-party support but Fianna Fáil seems very evasive on the matter. The time for a full and frank discussion on student loans in Dáil Éireann is now – before summer recess and before the Minister makes any more undemocratic decisions regarding the future implementation of this regressive and short-sighted idea.”