Fury over Quinn's plan to axe grants for post-graduates
EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn faced a backlash last night after it emerged that up to 3,600 post-graduate students may lose grants of €6,000 each from September.
Mr Quinn is considering charging every person who goes into the post-grad system and cutting off their grants. Currently around 3,600 of the 9,000 students qualify for free fees and state grants, worth around €6,000 each per year, while they pursue a diploma, masters or PhD.
But there were warnings last night that axing state support might block unemployed workers who are trying to go back to college to improve their skills and also make post-graduate qualifications the "preserve of the wealthy elite".
Fine Gael Wexford TD Liam Twomey said there were many people with degrees who wanted to get an extra qualification to allow them to work in sec-tors where jobs were plentiful.
"Our aim is to get people back to work and that must always remain the top priority in every policy decision we make. I think a blanket ban could be completely counterproductive," he said.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is organising a protest march, which is expected to bring thousands of students on to the streets of Dublin on Wednesday.
USI president Gary Redmond pointed out that Mr Quinn had signed a pre-election pledge that there would be no increases in college fees or cuts to maintenance grants. He called on him to reverse any cuts to post-grad grants.
"This proposal would mean that the number of students able to progress to Masters and PhD level would plummet, and higher education in Ireland would return to being the preserve of the wealthy elite," he said.
Last night, the Department of Education refused to comment -- but it is the latest leak to signal some of the potential cuts that are coming down the line in the €9bn education budget.
The cuts are due to affect new post-grad students starting in September but those already receiving grants will not be affected. Two-thirds of post-grad students pay fees and do not get maintenance grants.
Tomorrow, Mr Quinn is due to meet Labour Party backbenchers who are fearful about the prospect of third-level fees being re-introduced.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin said axing post-graduate grants was a "retrograde step" that would damage the knowledge economy.
"Let's face it, the grants that are given to post-graduate students give great value for money in the sense that these students who could otherwise be on the dole are advancing their qualifications and abilities so that they can contribute to the economy," he said.