The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has reacted with dismay at the proposals announcedtoday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and ReformBrendan Howlin T.D.

The €250 increase in fees will cause enormous hardship for families, but will only raise approximately 16 million euro for the Exchequer next year. Further massive cuts to core pay and non-pay funding announced totalling 4% over the next 4 years will put Colleges under enormous pressure to maintain standards in the face of dramatically less resources and increasing student numbers.

The long term cost of cutting Higher Education and the resultant damage to the future prospects ofthousands of students and families is far higher than the limited short termsavings achieved by such slash and burn tactics.   USI is prepared to commit to working with the Minister and the Department of Education to find additional efficiencies as long as access to education and student supports can be protected. Efficiencies can be made and saving can be found while protecting Ireland’s future prosperity by ensuring access to education. The Department of Education itself spends 1.7 million Euro each year on printing payslips alone.   A 3% across the boardcut to the Higher Education Grant now means that students on the lowest levelof the grant will be expected to eat, pay for transport and buy books for justover 1 Euro a day. Families without the means to payfor Higher Education themselves as a result of the decisions made today will continueto be locked into a cycle of poverty without any opportunities. Some capitalassets will now be taken account when calculating eligibility for theMaintenance Grant from 2013/14 on.   The measures announced in Budget 2012 willcause a dramatic decrease in the numbers of Irish students continuing on ineducation to postgraduate level. Without sufficient numbers of these students,Ireland cannot hope to have a vibrant R&D sector which is vital to oureconomic recovery. New postgraduate students who would have previouslyqualified for the special rate of the Grant i.e. a gross income of 22,703 Euro,will continue to have their fees paid up to the existing limit. Some additionalstudents will receive a contribution of €2,000 towards the cost of their fees.   USI President, Gary Redmond said,   ‘The Governmenttoday announced a 250 Euro increase in fees. This regressive and short-sighted measure will exclude thousands of would be students from education.    All aroundthe country, we see sports teams unable to field teams as communities aredecimated by emigration. Access to education is what allows these communitiesto be viable.    The promiseslaid out in glossy election manifestoes which were loudly trumpeted by candidatesless nine months ago, now lie in tatters along with the credibility of thisGovernment’s stated aim of building long term sustainable economic growth.’