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USI Demands Emergency Meeting with Hanafin over Student Grants Crisis

category national | irish social forum | press release author Monday June 12, 2006 14:52author by Union of Students in Ireland Report this post to the editors

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has written to Education Minister Mary Hanafin demanding an emergency meeting to address the student grants crisis.


12 June 2006

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has written to Education Minister Mary Hanafin demanding an emergency meeting to address the student grants crisis.

Minister Hanafin, after months of putting out suggestions to the contrary, last week dashed hopes that responsibility for maintenance grants would be vested in a responsible agency as students and government appointed experts have been calling for.

The 33 Vocational Education Committees (VECs) have an ‘abysmal’ track record of failing to issue grant payments on time – yet Minister Hanafin announced a reform plan that awards them sole responsibility for administering maintenance grants from autumn 2007.

USI President Tony McDonnell said: “USI is demanding an emergency meeting with Minister Hanafin because the student grants system is in crisis, and the Minister’s perverse reform plan – which avoids centralisation in favour of rewarding local government for its historic mismanaging of grants – holds the prospect of more misery next year and every year.

“Financial misery caused by delayed grant payments is the lot of thousands of students across Ireland every year – but USI was led to expect that things would improve, with government appointed experts calling for centralisation and students demanding a single agency at national level.

“Hanafin’s perverse reform plan that gives VECs sole responsibility for maintenance grants has left thousands of students feeling utterly desperate, so USI is demanding an emergency meeting with the Minister to spell out why she must immediately cancel this blueprint for chaos and implement a centralised system.”

Related Link: http://www.usi.ie
author by Ian Walsh - IT Tallaght Students Unionpublication date Mon Jun 12, 2006 16:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

USI, the umbrella organisation representing most of the third level Universities & Institutes of Technology on the Island of Ireland has a difficult job in attempting to convince the Minister for Education & Science that students’ unions have something meaningful to contribute to the third level education funding debate.

In my time as an elected president I have noticed that very few of the elected students' union officers would ever qualify for a Council/VEC maintenance grant or qualify for financial support from the college student services department through provisions of the NDP 2000-2006 student assistance funding schemes.

Potential students from lower income households, either as direct Leaving Cert entrants or mature candidates can't compete on a level playing field against those with resources to access "grind schools" in advance of the CAO round one race. The inequality of access issues for many students will continue ad infinitum due to the particular socio-economic profile of elected union officers, whose primary “people like us” profile won't ever correlate with the needs of those who could access third level education if the economics were more equitable.

Students' unions are far too quick to suggest that "Education is a right, not a privilege". In reality, Education is a responsibility, not just a privilege for those who can afford to hide out at third level and then consistently bum their way through as educational under achievers, wasting contributions from compliant tax payers.

The Democracy deficit at students' unions is the primary reason why student politics are nothing more than glorified booze sessions dressed up as National Council gatherings at some USI affiliated college. Irish students' union sabbatical officers are elected by a minority of their college students who actually take the time to cast a vote. Elected officers, pumped up with their own self importance then set about setting out their “political stall” on-campus.

Paid sabbatical officers are preoccupied with where best to park the car on-campus. Car parking is the real "political issue" for students' unions all over Ireland, nothing else comes close.

The Minister should introduce tuition fees for all students at third level. Tuition fee income could then be redistributed from those who can afford it to those students who can't. This would enable the basic maintenance grant of €3,020 to increase to something more realistic, perhaps €8,000+. Qualifying students wouldn’t need to compromise their academic performance in having to work excessively in low paid part time employment.

The Autumnal procession of Graduands might then more accurately reflect the broader socio-economic mix of people abroad in Irish society.

Ian Walsh
Student Union President
IT Tallaght Students Union


author by Gaz B -(A)-publication date Mon Jun 12, 2006 19:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

jaysis were should i start?
The barriers to education don't start once you've gotten your leaving cert results. If you truly want to widen access to education then you have start ealier in the chain. One of the reasons that the abolition of tuition fees hasn't significanty increased the numbers of working-class students going to college is because it only addressed the barrier that arises when someone is lucky enough to have stayed in school, got decent result sand an offer to go to college.You are 10 times more likely to go to third level if you are from Foxrock than from Ballyfermot - thats not because of the lack of a decent grant, its due to a lack of funding for schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas that are left to rot, a lack of resources for retention schemes etc that help stop people dropping out before they do the leaving cert.

So what is the answer? bring back fees and using the cash to improve grants? Well, thats the one-dimensional thinking thats got us in the situation we're already in bevause it doesn't even begin to address the root of the problem. regardless of the fact the government has shown that it simply can't do a decent means-test with regards to grants and medical cards, the revenue raised from fees would be tiny in comarison to the total education budget and with the current government surplus of €1.8 billion, its not a lack of resources thats the problem, it's a lack of political will, the beliefs of student union leaders like yourself and limited grassroots student activity that lets them get away with it.

After being re-elected in 2002 the government cutback on virtually all schemes designed to help reduce education disadvantage - the back to education scheme, provision of childcare for people on Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, Youthreach services and Traveller education programmes, the School Retention Initiative , the national Education Welfare board etc etc Ireland’s investment into its education system as a whole is lower than the OECD average. In public expenditure it ranks only 25th out of 30 OECD countries and with private expenditure added to public, 23rd out of 27 countries for whom data are available. Between 1995 and 2000, public expenditure on education declined from 4.7% to 4.1% as a proportion of GDP. All of this is during a time of unprecedent economic growth.

The issue of bringing back fees (thats if you don't consider the grand you alreay pay as a fee) keeps being peddled by those with no real understanding of the education sytem and how it it works as whole and the barriers to education at pre-school, primary, secondary, third and post graduate levels. When has charging students fees ever significantly increased the numbers of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds entering third level education? Look at england where they were spouting the same line about using the revenue from fees for grants...what happened? They abolished grants! If we look at australia, they attempted to suppress an official report, showed that participation by working-class males in the tocourses such as law, medicine, dentistry, vet etc had fallen by 38% since fees wereintroduced; also there had been a fall of 17,000 in annual enrolment by mature students.

the last thing the student movement and tallaght IT needs is people like ian running unions saying that fees would be an answer. The are public services that society must provide as of right and pay for through taxes. access to education is one of them.

a bit of reading for ye..
http://www.ucdsu.net/newswire.php?story_id=161&search_t...et=40 - Australian model
http://www.ucdsu.net/newswire.php?story_id=108&search_t...et=40 OECD report

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