Monday, 31 May 2021
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I commend the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, on its Education for All campaign. Other Senators may have passed representatives of the union outside the gates of Leinster House this morning. At €3,000, Irish students are now paying the highest fees in Europe. When I was president of USI in 2015 and 2016, we campaigned against an increase in the student contribution fee. It is, obviously, a position about which I still feel strongly. I agree with the USI and the demands its representatives made outside Leinster House today. It is time to cut fees, fix student rental prices and take care of our students. The Cassells report came out five years ago. It had a comprehensive roadmap for publicly-funded higher and further education but no action has been taken by two consecutive Ministers in the relevant area.
Last week, I raised the issue of the denial of Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, grants to students on the grounds that they accepted the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Those students were entitled to that payment. It was a payment for people who lost their jobs and were unable to work. No advance notice was given that availing of the PUP would affect a student's SUSI grant. The Ministers for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, and Social Protection, have taken no action on that issue. A number of weeks ago, I raised the issue of the cost of housing for students and I mentioned, in particular, the need to bring on-campus housing providers to the table to discuss what we can do to help students who are out of pocket for rent and accommodation they could not access. Nothing has been done thus far on that issue, as far as I am aware. A considerable number of outstanding issues are facing students who have been through an unprecedentedly tough 18 months and those issues warrant a debate. We need to discuss how we can support them and work together to resolve these issues. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to the House to discuss these issues. Given that six of the Seanad seats are filled by the university panel, it is appropriate that we have such a discussion here. I reiterate the USI call for publicly-funded education and not a student-funded system. I offer my support to their campaign and I ask all Senators to engage with the Education for All campaign.