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Student loan scheme 'would spur an increase in emigration' to avoid debts

Students have warned a proposed loan scheme for college and university courses would spark a new emigration brain drain.

The "study now pay later " idea could see graduates pay back about 150 euro a month until they turn 33 in what researchers have claimed is the cheapest way to fund a major expansion of third level education.

The option was put forward in research being presented to an Oireachtas committee this week.

But the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) said it rejects the idea student loans are an effective way to fund the sector.

It said such a scheme would be expensive to set up, would spur on a new surge in emigration and disproportionately punish public-sector employees and workers outside the highest earning professions.

Annie Hoey, president of the USI, said repayments of 150 euro a month are "simply out of touch with the reality of graduate salaries in Ireland".

"A loan scheme is likely to spur an increase in emigration from the country to avoid debt repayment, with significant economic, skills and social consequences," she said.

The loans scheme, described as "income-contingent" was set out in research by Pr ofessor Bruce Chapman, who designed a similar system in Australia, and Maynooth University academic Dr Aedin Doris.

It warned of the impact of emigration on the scheme and that up to 10% of graduates in Ireland would not repay their loans.

The proposal suggests that graduates would only begin to repay their education debts when they start earning a certain level, a salary of 26,000 euro for loans of 16,000 euro.

Ms Hoey said the 10% non-repayment rate was "hopelessly optimistic".

The idea of loans was one of three options on funding higher education which was set out in a separate report for the Department of Education last year by Peter Cassells, with the alternatives being " free fees" and keeping the 3,000 euro registration fee.

"The Government is trying again to obscure the facts and create the impression that the only viable funding mechanism for higher education is a loan scheme," Ms Hoey said.

"The Cassells Report showed that properly tax-funded higher education is a viable option, whereas a 10 billion euro loan scheme favoured by government right now is an attempt to borrow now and move the mess of repayment down the track."

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