Education for the Rich?

According to the Irish Times this week (14th December 2015) the new report by the committee reviewing funding for higher education in the South has proposed that the answer to increasing Government cuts to the sector is NOT to restore the public funding of Universities. Instead, it seems that the proposal is that fees should be increased and student loans introduced to be paid back over a 15 year period.

As it is, low income groups are already unlikely to avail of higher education. National and International reports from the OECD to the CSO ) e.g. CSO, 2014, OECD, 2015) have consistently shown this to be the case. The Cork City Profile 2014 has shown this in terms of geographical differecnes within one city. Children who live in disadvantaged (or deprived) areas are less likely to attend university than those in wealthier areas. In one ‘disadvantaged’ area of Cork for example less than 5% of the population over 16 years have higher education qualifications like a degree or above, while in more prosperous areas of the same city, the figure ranges from 43% to over 50%. Do people seriously believe higher fees and repayable loans will encourage poorer people to avail of a university education?

Research (e.g. Callendar and Jackson, 2005) shows that low income people are much less likely to take risks with money including taking up extra debt for items not regarded as basic necessities of life. Anyone who has gone through a period of long term unemployment or low income knows that often other more immediate priorities like paying for food and shelter and fiding ways to increase current income often outweigh furture planning considerations. Besides this it takes a lot of confidence and self-motivation to take out a loan to invest in possible future advance, especially when one has limited family support or security in the here and now.

Rarely do we hear today about unequal access to higher education. Instead we have the increasing privatisation of higher education with western governments apparently committed to ending public provision and responsibility for higher education and promoting its commodification and marketisation in the sector. As a result, students become consumers and research becomes increasingly dependent on private sector funding and thus private sector direction. In short, power becomes further concentrated in the hands of the ‘haves’.


Kelly, T. and Hayes P. (2014), Cork City Profile 2014, Cork, Healthy Cities and Social Inclusion Unit, Cork City Council: Cork, Ireland.
Carl O’Brien. (2015), Graduates would pay €25 a week in 15-year loan scheme, Irish Times, 14.12.15
Callender, Claire and Jackson, Jonathan (2005) Does the fear of debt deter students from higher education? Journal of social policy, 34 (4). pp. 509-540.


About Féilim Ó hAdhmaill

Dr. Féilim Ó hAdhmaill is a Lecturer in Social Policy in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork, Ireland. His subject areas are Comparative Social Policy; Conflict Transformation and Peace Building; Community Development and he is Programme Director for the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management. University profile For information on the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management He has a long background working in community and voluntary sector and as a political activist in the North of Ireland. He is a former republican prisoner who spent seven and a half years in prison. He was released from jail in August 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement. He has lectured in social policy at Queens University Belfast and Ulster University and have been a lecturer in University College Cork since 2006.
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