A new system could see income-based loans from the State
The Labour Party is to table a motion this week opposing student loans.
The Cassells Report, published last year, found that there is a funding gap of €5.5bn over the next 15 years in third-level education.
It made a number of recommendations, including a deferred payment scheme for students.
This would see the abolition of the existing upfront fees for both undergraduates and postgraduates, and replace them with a system of income contingent loans provided by the State.
The report says: "Higher education would be free at the point of entry for all students. Repayment of loans would only commence once a graduate’s earnings reach a threshold level and would be set at a defined percentage of annual income, collected through the revenue system."
But it also states that those whose earnings do not reach the threshold would make no repayments.
A private member's bill before the Seanad is calling on the Government not to implement the loan scheme.
Labour Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is proposing the motion. He told Newstalk Breakfast it just would not be fair.
"I believe any student loan scheme would be a barrier to access - hard-working families, those who are working hard and who are always just outside the criteria for any grant scheme are going to be the ones that are hammered by this.
"Basically, our argument is that it costs about €220m a year to fully fund fees for the entire student body - that is something that could be adequately taken onboard by the exchequer.
"Those who benefit from their education, and therefore earn high wages in future years, would pay for that through their taxes".
Ed Walsh is a former president of the University of Limerick.
He says he is in favour of the proposal: "Surprisingly, the disadvantaged members of community have participated more actively when a loan is involved, than when there are no fees".
On the current set-up, Mr Walsh says: "If everyone went on to higher education, the arrangement would make sense - just for primary or secondary level - but they don't.
"And the reality is that those who go on to higher education have a huge income uplift... So it's extraordinary that a member of a socialist party would recommend an arrangement where the disadvantaged subsidise the elite".