Sixth Year Runner Up: Keith Dowling, Mary Immaculate, Secondary School,Co. Clare.
In modern Ireland, third-level education is a necessity. Our country is one of the most developed and respected counties in Europe, if not the world. But why is this so? The Irish economy is known to thrive very quickly, we have a well-to-do population, the country boasts an English-speaking, highly skilled and ready-to-work labour force, and what’s more, Irish young people are excelling in their studies and developing at a much faster pace than their counterparts in other countries. But I must ask, what exactly is the underlying feature, the common denominator which defines Ireland and makes the country great? Without a shadow of a doubt the answer is our education system. Our third-level system in Ireland today is more accessible than ever before. Attending a university or an Institute of Technology is no longer viewed as an upper-class privilege or indeed a door opened only for the wealthy, but for all walks of life and people of various income levels. Third level is today largely tax-funded with additional supports for low-income earners. However, this system is constantly in review in the media and indeed by the government. The student-loan system is considered an option, as exists in the United States. It works on the basis of students receiving third-level education without paying until they get a job which provides a high enough wage and which will allow the graduates to begin repayment. However, much like UCC’s Head of Sociology, Niamh Hourigan, I believe such loans would divert students from third-level education, and that would be utterly disastrous for our country.
To begin, allow me to explain why I am so opposed to such a scheme. One obvious setback is that not everyone gets a job after school. Here are some statistics: 78% of trainee teachers will get a job within 9 months of graduating; 75% of ICT graduates will find a job within a similar time period. However, the majority of jobs are in the lower end of the scale. For instance, as reported recently in the Irish Independent, only 48% of graduates of journalism will find a job within 9 months. There is a clear trend from these statistics (not that it isn’t obvious): graduates will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repay these loans. Enough financial pressure is put on young adults today, be it a mortgage or a loan on a car. Let’s face it, a blind man could see that student loans would make graduates flee.
Currently, if a student is the first person in a family receiving third-level education and provided that the total income for that family is no greater than approximately €48,000, the student qualifies for a SUSI grant which effectively covers the cost of the €3,000 student contribution fee to Irish universities. However, if the family’s income is slightly more than this amount, the entire burden lies with them. Of course, this does not mean it is significantly easier for the family to fund this. In fact, most families will tell you that it’s damn near impossible. Therefore, perhaps it would make sense for a portion of this money to be returned to the family on a yearly basis over the course of the students studies in third-level education. This could be done through a tax rebate or possibly a tax-credit system. The result of this would be that third level would be accessible to an even greater number of students and would indeed encourage them to continue their studies, rather than drive them away.
In addition to this, I can assure you that there are many more advantages associated with such a system. For example, when a student chooses which course they wish to study, they will fully intend to research the course, choose it wisely, study diligently and succeed in it. A tax-credit system system would encourage people to push themselves further and to achieve. Moreover, it would reduce the number of college “dropouts” and indeed prevent students from choosing courses randomly and thus not taking their course as seriously as is necessary. But whether or not such an idea ever prospers in Ireland, I am absolutely certain that our current system of tax-funded third-level education or indeed a future improved version of it are far superior to the concept of student loans. The inconvenient truth is that third-level education is no longer simply important to students, it is unquestionably vital for our country.
In conclusion, I fully agree with Niamh Hourigan in her view that “student loans will make graduates flee” and that third level must be funded through tax. The student-loans system places too great a burden on people later on in their lives, at exactly the point where wages are lowest in their occupation and every penny earned is spent. Logic would therefore suggest that many of these loans would never be repaid, which means tax is the best and indeed the only option. In a country where third-level education is paramount in order to keep unemployment levels low and to attract foreign multinational companies to our shores, we must, now more than ever, encourage every single student to further their studies and earn their degree. Therefore, I conclude by saying we need to wake up and realise that tax is the best way to fund third-level education in this country today.