UCD Students’ Union Postgraduate Officer Martin Lawless proposed a motion for the President and Vice-Presidents of UCDSU to petition the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to lobby the Government on the potential introduction of a postgraduate loan scheme at a recent UCDSU Council meeting, held on February 14th. Lawless proposed the same motion at last year’s USI National Congress, and states that “The USI fundamentally said they would do something” about a postgraduate loan scheme being introduced and that he has “no evidence to say that anything has happened” on the issue in the eleven months since the USI Congress.
Lawless initially proposed the motion at Congress because he had “an inkling” that the new Fine Gael-Labour coalition government “were going to introduce some cuts, particularly in education grants,” despite UCDSU having “negotiated a fee structure in UCD, which would work over a three-year period” expiring after the 2012-2013 academic year.
With regards to USI’s lack of progress on the issue of postgraduate loans, USI Campaigns Officer Colm Murphy said, “Over the past couple of days, the President [of USI, Gary Redmond] and myself were in the High Court, and we’ve had informal discussions with some people from the Department [of Education and Skills], but it primarily comes within Aengus’ [Ó Maoláin, USI Education Officer] brief” and that he knows “Aengus has been working on it.”
Now that the issue has been put down as an Executive motion, Lawless hopes to “form a subcommittee” and talk to commercial banks, the UCD Admissions office, and some government departments, although he has been “informed that the departments won’t talk to us, because we’re not part of USI.” UCDSU Education Officer Sam Geoghegan says he is exhausting alternatives and would hope to possibly echo a similar scheme in place at Dublin City University (DCU), although that would not be the ideal solution in his mind. “DCU have a scheme with Bank of Ireland. Unfortunately, we can’t Freedom of Information the actual logistics and how it works and the feasibility of it, but I’m sure a commercial bank would be interested in such a scheme … We want a nationwide scheme [not just one set-up exclusively for UCD].”
Geoghegan was critical of USI’s handling of the situation, stating, “There was very little mention of it, if at all, in the first half of the year … It needs to speed up, especially with Congress in the next five or six weeks,” while Lawless said “We don’t have anything to offer [incoming postgraduate students], and I think that is a tragedy.”
Currently, incoming postgraduate students who would have otherwise qualified for a special rate of grant will continue to have their fees paid to the previous limit of 6,270 euro next year, and the next 4,000 most vulnerable students will receive a 2,000 euro contribution towards their fees.