Date Uploaded: 08/08/2016
Fianna Fáil says the reintroduction of grants for thousands of postgraduate students is “absolutely essential”.
Restoring the grants, axed during a round of austerity-era cost-cutting, is estimated to cost about €50 million.
Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said a new education strategy being prepared by Minister for Education Richard Bruton must include such a measure to help undo damage caused by five years of “regressive policies”.
“The removal of postgraduate grants was an appallingly regressive move which acted as a barrier to accessing further education...The restoration of these grants is absolutely essential.
“In addition, whatever decisions are made in the future about funding third-level, without a doubt a substantial and recurrent increase in funding is absolutely required, as is clearly recommended through the Cassells Report [on the future funding of the sector].”
Given the make-up of the minority administration, Fianna Fáil demands to restore the grant are likely to carry significant weight.
Mr Burton has previously signalled he wishes to take steps to support less well-off students to enter the education system, but has insisted there are limited funds available. He is preparing a three-year education strategy which is informed by the programme for government.
This document contains a commitment to “increase financial supports for postgraduate students with a particular focus on those from low-income households”.
He has previously said all proposals made in relation to education expenditure, including changes to postgraduate student grants, will be considered in the context of October’s budget.
Mr Byrne, meanwhile, said a new strategy must represent a “complete change” in direction for the education system.
“The previous Fine Gael-led government did enormous damage to our education system.
“They dismantled schemes which had helped tackle inequality in the education system. Small schools were also placed at risk, third-level fees were increased and guidance counselling was effectively abolished in many schools.”
Fianna Fáil priorities include enhancing primary education through a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio, increased capitation funding to reduce the burden on schools and parents and supporting small schools.
At second level, Mr Byrne said the restoration of ex-quota provision of guidance counselling was a top priority.
“Further resources for special educational needs at all levels must also be emphasised in the new Government strategy,” Mr Byrne added.
Journalist: Carl O'Brien