Government should introduce a student loan scheme for 3rd level students in Budget 2012

Posted on Thursday, 6 October 2011

Government should introduce a student loan scheme for 3rd level students in Budget 2012. There are strong arguments from an equity perspective that those who benefit from higher education, and who can afford to contribute to the costs of their higher education, should do so.

This principle is well established internationally and is an important component of funding strategies for many of the better higher education systems across the world. 3rd level graduates earn more than non-graduates throughout their lives. It is only fair that they contribute to this advantage which 3rd level provides.
Social Justice Ireland believes that Government should introduce a system in which

  • fees are paid by all participants in third level education
  • with an income-contingent loan facility being put in place to ensure that all participants who need to do so can borrow to pay their fees and cover their living costs, and
  • repay their borrowing when their income rises above a particular level. 

In this system

  • All students would be treated on the same basis insofar as both tuition and living cost loans would be available on a deferred re-payment basis;
  • All students would be treated on the same basis as repayment is based on their own future income rather than on current parental income;
  • Inclusion of all part-time students would reduce the present disparity between full-time and part-time students.

Such a scheme would reduce Government expenditure by €445m on a full-year basis. Social Justice Ireland believes that of this saving €120m should go towards primary level and adult literacy programmes.
Education can be an agent for social transformation. We believe that education can be a powerful force in counteracting inequality and poverty while recognising that, in many ways, the present education system has quite the opposite effect.
According to Social justice Ireland, recent studies confirm the persistence of social class inequalities which are seemingly ingrained in the system. Even in the context of the increased participation and economic expansion of much of the last decade, the education system continues to mediate the vicious cycle of disadvantage and social exclusion between generations. When viewed in an international context, the most striking feature of investment in education in Ireland, relative to other OECD and EU countries, is our comparative under-investment in primary education relative to international norms (not to mention our very limited public funding for early childhood education). Irish investment in third-level education, which is widely regarded as inadequate, is approximately at the OECD average.

Primary School Funding
However, our public investment at second level and, in particular, at primary level is substantially below the OECD average and is among the lowest of all OECD countries when the expenditure is standardised as a percentage of GDP.
Social Justice Ireland proposes that €100m of what the Government would save through the changes proposed above should be allocated to primary education.

Adult Literacy
The Department of Educations policy for tackling literacy problems among adults is simply unacceptable accordidng to Social Justice Ireland. As part of the 2007 Government’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion a target for adult literacy policy was set stating that “the proportion of the population aged 16-64 with restricted literacy will be reduced to between 10%-15% by 2016, from the level of 25% found in 1997” where “restricted literacy” is defined as level 1 on the International Adult Literacy Scale. People at this level of literacy are considered to possess “very poor skills, where the individual may, for example, be unable to determine the correct amount of medicine to give a child from information printed on the package” (OECD).
In numerical terms this implies that the aim of government policy is to have “only” 301,960 adults with serious literacy difficulties in Ireland in 2016.
We re-iterate our previous claims that this target is illogical, un-ambitious and suggests a complete lack of serious interest in addressing this problem. 
The current target on adult literacy should be revised downwards dramatically and the necessary resources committed to ensuring that the revised target is met.

Social Justice Ireland proposes that an additional €20m should be allocated in Budget 2012 as the first tranche of additional funding to address adult literacy issues.