THE DEPARTMENT of Education has asserted that a new loan offering by one of the country’s largest banks is not part of its own plans to change the funding model for third-level education.
The comments came after Bank of Ireland began advertising a loan scheme aimed at the parents of current and prospective third-level students, allowing them to effectively pay the ‘student contribution charge’ on an instalment basis.
The new loan programme, aimed exclusively at students’ parents and not the students themselves, “gives parents the flexibility to efficiently spread” the cost of their child’s contribution charge, which will stand at €2,250 this year.
That charge, previously known as a ‘student registration fee’, is currently payable in two instalments at some colleges, but there had previously been no facility to pay the charge on an more elongated basis.
This afternoon the Department of Education confirmed that it had been exploring “a range of possibilities for the provision of supports to assist students”, ahead of a speculated return of full tuition fees.
It added, however, that the specific arrangements being offered by banks at present were “not a matter for the Department”.
The confirmation that the Department had been working with the banks on a range of funding models all but confirms earlier reports that the government was in talks with AIB about arranging a public-private model for college loans.
A Labour source told TheJournal.ie two months ago that discussions with the bank had included “conservations about student loan schemes that include undergraduates”.
This afternoon the Union of Students in Ireland criticised Bank of Ireland for failing to engage with the majority of local students’ unions before rolling out the system in local colleges.
Its president John Logue added that the bank’s literature seemed to show discrepancies with what had already been agreed with some unions, such as the latest literature which precludes loans from being adjusted if the student charge was increased in subsequent years, as is expected.
“The scheme could lead to a steep increase in fees, as it gives the Government the impression that finance is available to cope with such increases,” he said.
The student registration fee, as it was called when it was first introduced, stood at IR£150 and was intended to contribution towards extra-curricular activities like sports clubs, student societies and each college’s students’ union.
It has incrementally been increased each year since, however, with many students now seeing the charge as an atypical form of college fees.
Any model where the government would guarantee a student loan scheme, in lieu of the ‘free’ fees system which still operates for first-time students at third level, would probably be resisted by the EU-IMF Troika given that it would require the State to guarantee each student’s loan.