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The Minister, the Grants, and the Social Worker

November 16, 2011

Ruairi Quinn, minister for education has recently announced a plan to scrap postgraduate grants to save money in the upcoming budget. While this is no doubt a first step in a pre-budget media dance I figured I would wander off topic and throw in my two cents about how this plan will affect the world of social work.

I should start by pointing out that as I said on my Twitter account, if it wasn’t for grants I wouldn’t be a social worker (and you wouldn’t have this nice blog to read!). I am certainly a beneficiary of the current set up.

There are two routes into social work a four year degree in Trinity College Dublin, or one of the several postgraduate courses across the country. Either route lands you in the same place, a newly qualified social worker on the same pay scale, but you could be 30 something starting in the same place as a 22 year old.

Cutting the grant will obviously effect the numbers able to study and may risk reducing the numbers of social workers graduating each year.

Secondly on those able to cover costs will participate, increasing the already existing middle class bias in social work in Ireland.

Thirdly it will does the numbers towards degree graduates, and does future social workers towards being younger, and with less varied expierence in life and work.

Axing postgraduate grants will have a negative impact on social work.

So what’s to be done instead?

Again perhaps my bias, but there is a difference between a professional training programe and something more abstract, maybe that is anti-intellectual but its a fact, and certainly provides a prima facia argument for instead of a blanket removal a special case being made for social work and other professional courses.

However, that is only tinkering with the current system, what higher education needs is a more radical overhaul of funding, including dealing with the.sacred cow of free fees. Why is it considered fair and equitable that general taxation from lower class families should be used to subsidize middle class families to get an education that they themselves will never get?

A system of fees and grants on sliding scales ensures those who can pay do, and support for those who can’t. This should be supported by a system of college loans where payback is based on your salary, so if you don’t earn enough you don’t pay, with an expiry date on the loan so it is not a millstone forever. This is similar to the system in Australia, and is far more progressive than blanket free fees.

However, will a Labour minister slaughter this sacred cow and risk all those juicy votes it brings…..

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