Senator concerned over proposed loan plan which could see students saddled with €20,000 debt
A newly elected Senator has raised concerns over possible loan scheme which could see students saddled with up to €20,000 college debt for a significant part of their working lives.
Trinity College Senator Lynn Ruane was responding to a report published on Monday setting out the possibility of a student loan scheme to help tackle a lack of funding in Ireland’s third level education system.
The Cassells report which was commissioned by the previous Minister for Education in 2014 set out three options for third level funding going forward.
One option presented in the report was an income-contingent loan scheme which would see students borrowing money to pay their education fees at the beginning of their degree programmes.
Under the scheme, the loans would be at a low interest rate and students either begin repaying the money when they choose to do so or when they begin their careers in jobs adequately waged to support repayment of the loans.
Speaking this afternoon on RTÉ One's News at One, Senator Ruane said she believes the more realistic route to be taken by government should take in parts of all three options presented in the report, but should not rely heavily on the controversial loan scheme.
She explained: “I know [income-contingent loans are] something we need to look at and we need to look at the report as a whole and not completely rule out something.
“But when it comes to income-contingent loans I think it doesn’t match up with what the report is also saying about increasing the number of disadvantaged students into third level.
“There’s a line actually in the report that states that the option to continue to pay up front will continue to be there so that people will have a choice but for me that choice only exists for people that can afford to pay up front.
“The bottom earners actually don’t have a choice and are forced into debt so already that’s an unequal decision to be made for people going on to third level education.”
However the former Trinity College Students’ Union President said she would ideally like to see free fees introduced for students in third level education, but recognised Ireland was not in that mind-set yet.
She explained: “I would go for the first [option in the report] and free fees
“I don’t feel we’re there yet ideologically and I know that’s something that can’t happen overnight. I think state investment and also capital investment is needed and it can’t go on for the next 12 to 18 months.
“I mean it’s something that’s needed in the next few months…and it can also be two approaches, like not ruling out that you can’t take bits of the three approaches and put them together.
She was also critical of what she believes is the narrative being presented to the public following the publication of the Cassells report today.
She said: “I think the narrative going out is…that income-contingent loan is the only way to go and I think that’s how privatisation has worked with most things over the years.
“The State will underfund something enough that it feels like our only option is that we have to go to students to make up that bill.
She also warned the proposed loan scheme could see the value of Arts degrees and non-science based degrees become devalued by the industry as lenders might want a “quick turnaround on [their] investment”.