Proposal to introduce student loans is "off the table"

Mary Mitchell O'Connor is said to have made the pledge to a student outside Leinster House

Proposal to introduce student loans is "off the table"

Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

It appears that plans to introduce a student loan scheme are "off the table".

The Cassells Report, published in 2016, 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, such as a deferred payment scheme for students.

That proposal suggests the abolition of the existing upfront fees for both undergraduates and postgraduates, instead replacing them with a system of income contingent loans provided by the State.

According to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), Junior Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O'Connor told a student outside Leinster House that the plan has been scrapped.

She is quoted as saying: "In Galway last week, the Taoiseach and I have both said that student loans are off the table.  

"There is no plan in the department looking at that for the near future.”

USI President Micheal Kerrigan says the union has been campaigning against the introduction of loans and fees for a long time.

He explained: "We have and always have advocated for a publicly funded method of higher education, where there is no student contribution fee.

"We had it in the early 1990s... we believe it is the best way to go forward. It does take significant investment, but there's a huge return on investment."

He added: "This is welcome news, and we're looking forward to more clarity on the statement - and hopefully inside Leinster House rather than outside it."

While third-level education is publicly-funded in Ireland, most colleges require a student to pay an annual contribution - with the maximum rate set at €3,000.

Additional reporting by Jack Quann