Thousands march for investment in third-level education

Organisers said 20,000 people took to the streets

Thousands march for investment in third-level education

Students protest in Dublin. Image: Sean Defoe

Thousands of students have taken part in a major demonstration outside the Department of the Taoiseach in Dublin.

Organisers said 20,000 people took to the streets calling for a return to publicly-funded third level education.

The marchers also voiced their opposition to plans to introduce a student loans scheme in Ireland:

The march was organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), which represents nearly 400,000 students around the country.

The union is calling for a gradual increase in public investment in third level education – and USI President Michael Kerrigan said the demonstration will send a strong message to government:

"We're well aware that there's no bottomless pit, this is something we're not asking for.

"It's something we're looking for over time between now and 2030 - that the student contribution fee is reduced.

"Since 2008 it has risen 375% - there's no fee in the country that has gone up that much in the last decade.

"We're looking for it to be reduced to the same rate that it was increased, and to have publicly-funded education by 2030."

He said the long-term benefits to investing in education make it a no-brainer for the exchequer:

“There are not a huge amount of things that the government spend money on annually that they are guaranteed a four-fold return on investment – and higher education is that.

“For every Euro that is put into higher education, over time the economy will see four times more coming back into it as a benefit from investing.

“It is not a cost, it is not a spend - it is an investment.”

The union is calling on the government to rule out introducing any form of income-contingent loan scheme in Budget 2018 – and to reduce the student contribution charge by at least €250.

It is also seeking a reversal of cuts made to student grants as the cost of attending college increases.

Speaking ahead of the demonstration, the Minister of State with responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she understands the student’s concerns.

“This is a very important sector,” she said.

“The Government is aware we need to fund our third level institutions so we produce thoughtful, inspired graduates to enrich our growth as a society.  

“We have to ensure job-ready graduates to assist in our continuous growth as a country.”

She said the government is looking at all options outlined in the Cassells report on higher education funding – and insisted that “this Government has not made any decisions on deferred funding or otherwise.”

“I am adamant there will be no undue financial pressure placed on parents and students,” she said.

“We simply do not want our students graduating burdened with the kind of debts that we have seen in other countries.”

She said the Oireachtas Education Committee is currently considering the Cassells recommendations - adding that when she reports back to Cabinet on the matter, she will “make it one of my top priorities to ensure that there is a fair outcome for students and their parents.”