Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)


6:25 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Before I address further and higher education, I want to say that I hope the school transport debacle is solved for now. I urge the Minister, Deputy Foley, to publish the review or to get it sorted out as soon as possible so that we are not in the same situation with school transport next year. I acknowledge the advances that have been made in this budget to support students and to help them and their families through the crisis. I thank the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, for at least listening to some of the recommendations we made inside and outside this Chamber over the past year. The Minister knows that there is a great uphill climb to address the chronic underfunding of the third level sector. There are issues with the €307 million gap, precarious working conditions, the staff to student ratio, student supports, particularly for part-time students, those studying in the North and those forced to study abroad, and students with disabilities. Those are just some of the matters that need to be addressed in further and higher education.

The most striking matter in the budget is that there is no specific provision for student accommodation. In the midst of the student accommodation crisis, it is hard to believe that this has been excluded. Advanced student accommodation projects are sitting on the shelf because the Government will not support the colleges to deliver them. In our alternative budget, we allocated an additional €81 million to get the projects on site and under construction, to deliver affordable college-owned accommodation and to take the pressure off the private rental market. I ask the Minister to go back to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to make sure that funding is put in place. Otherwise, we will end up in the same situation next year and the year after with student accommodation, until we are in a situation where we have on-campus accommodation for students owned by higher education institutes.

Parents who are paying rent for their students are excluded from the tax rebate introduced for others. Rent is rent. If parents have proof that they are renting accommodation for their students to attend college, then they need to be eligible for that fund. I ask the Government to go back to look at that. We cannot just exclude students because we do not like the way that rent is being paid. There is proof of that rent being paid and it has to be changed, even at this stage.

The Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, supports and the cuts to fees to help struggling students and families are welcome and sorely needed. Sinn Féin wanted to see a 25% increase in the SUSI maintenance grant. This was a recommendation from the independent SUSI review commissioned by Government. It called for a 25% increase before this year's inflation and the cost-of-living issues. Reducing the fee by €1,000 is the right thing to do but we need to abolish fees. I appreciate that the Government has gone from a position of saying that it will absolutely not touch fees to a situation where it is abolishing them, at least temporarily, this year. That needs to be permanent. We cannot be an outlier and one of the few countries that charges fees. Eleven other states do not charge student fees and we need to do the same. In a situation where we desperately need apprentices, we should abolish apprenticeship fees.

I welcome the €500 for PhD researchers but it does not go nearly far enough. Less than half of all PhD researchers will be eligible for this. PhD researchers do not have worker status, so they are not eligible for the rent rebate. The Government needs to look at that. We need to treat PhD researchers as workers. The exploitation of PhD researchers is crazy, when they are so valuable to our economy and nation.

Membership of CERN costs less than €1.5 million. The Minister and Government need to ensure that we have associate membership of CERN. It is vitally important to future research and development in this area. The benefits from it speak for themselves. There is a multiplicative effect of at least three times and up to 20 times from the investment there. It has to be done to address the problems that we now have with climate change and many other problems that are arising which will face this country in the future. Some €1.5 million is such a small amount, from which we get so much back by being a member of CERN.


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