Minister ‘disappointed’ by BOI’s decision to end medical graduate student loan

FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION MINISTER Simon Harris said he was “disappointed” at the Bank of Ireland’s decision to end a loan available to medical graduate students.

Minister Harris is to present a review of the Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) system to the government, which will examine supports for students pursuing medicine through this route.

Fees for Graduate Medical Students (GEM) are now set at €16,290 per year for Irish students and €55,140 for non-EU students.

GEM students pursue the program as a second degree – after first earning a separate related undergraduate degree – so they are not eligible for free funding or scholarships.

Tuition fees for participating EU students are partly subsidized by the state through the Higher Education Authority – in the academic year 2020/2021 the state contribution was €11,524 per student.

The Bank of Ireland loan, which was capped at €15,000 a year, included a moratorium on repayments so that graduates did not have to start repaying the loan until four years after graduating.

The bank said those who have already taken out these loans will not be impacted, but the loan will no longer be available for new applications after July 31 this year.

“The loan required a parental guarantee which was not an option for all students and the deferral of repayments meant debt had accrued by the end of term,” the Bank of Ireland said in a statement.

“It has represented a very small volume of our global loans and the volume has fallen in recent years, while our other loans have become more popular.”

The bank said it has a number of other loans for undergraduates, postgraduates and graduates.

“These include our student loan to fund the costs of returning to university, travel or living expenses, and our postgraduate loan. We also offer extremely competitive rates via a Personal Loan up to €65,000.

‘Disappointed’

A spokesperson for Minister Harris said The newspaper he was “disappointed with this decision”.

“His main concern is the cost of graduate-entry medicine for the student,” she said.

“He is due to present Susi’s exam to the government soon and will consider how to better support students in this context.”

Ruairí Power, president of the UCD Students’ Union, said The newspaper that it will be important that the pupils concerned are taken into account within the framework of the Susi examination.

“You can’t separate the discussion of loan requirements from the fee levels themselves,” he said. “The most effective action the government could take would be to reduce the initial cost to students.

“Loans are not a blanket solution here, but the removal of this loan facility has pulled the rug out from under students and left them with no viable alternative.”

He said students who intended to pursue a GEM are now planning to take a few years off to work and save the funds they need to continue their education.

“It’s either that or people will go overseas, and at the moment we have a chronic recruitment and retention deficit in the health services, so a lack of access to this course will be an issue.

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“It was also intended to diversify the field and if it is only available exclusively to those who have accumulated a large amount of wealth, it defeats the purpose of the GEM program.”

“Colossal Money”

Speaking in the Seanad earlier this week, Minister of State Anne Rabbitte said the decision “was taken by the government, and now the government is dealing with the matter as quickly as possible”.

“It’s a priority for the government,” she said. “We don’t want to be in such a situation where we can’t get young people into these courses because they can’t afford to pay them.”

She said these loans were “very useful because they recognized the level of professionalism required in such courses, they were intensive and there would be an opportunity at the end to work and earn enough income to pay them back”.

“The withdrawal of loans from the market makes it difficult for students to consider pursuing such careers. Parents may not have the correct financing or credit status to be successful guarantors.

Minister Rabbitte was answering a question on the question from Labor Senator Annie Hoey, who referred to a survey of Irish GEM students which found the majority needed external financial support to pay fees academics.

“We all know how high these university fees are; they cost €16,000 a year to study GEM,” she said. “It’s colossal money. It’s €64,000 they need to take out in the form of a loan. Some 74% of those who responded have or would have possibly sought out the Bank of Ireland loan and it is a significant number.

“The fees were already exorbitant and we’ve had conversations before that it’s unrealistic to expect people to pay them,” Sen. Hoey said. “We’re never going to have any kind of diversity in medicine if we have fees in the range of €16,000 a year and if we lock people out of loans for that money because they can’t get guarantors or take out a personal loan.


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