It was announced today by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin that the Student Contribution Charge will increase by €250 per year from September 2013. This will continue until the Charge reaches €3,000 in 2015. This comes alongside a 3% cut to income threshold for eligibility for student grants. However, no cuts to the maintenance grant rates have been included in the 2013 budget.
UCD Students’ Union Campaigns and Communications Officer Paddy Guiney, who has been heading up the national campaign, Gilmore’s 250, has described the announcement as a “disappointment” as the rise to €3,000 marks “the single biggest rise by any government since the introduction of free education in the mid-nineties.”
Union of Students in Ireland President John Logue has commented on the rise, saying: “While the Minister warned that this increase would come, it remains a bitter blow to families who are struggling to get their children through college. Labour’s betrayal of students on this front is disgraceful.”
His main concern with the rise in the charge is access to education. This comes as many students say they will not be able to attend university next year now that the Charge has increased. He commented saying: “A change like this, as said continually in this campaign, is the increased financial barrier put in place for students and their families.”
The 3% reduction in the grant’s income threshold has been justified by Minister Quinn as the threshold rose in line with industrial earnings between 1997 and 2009, and has not decreased in the last number of years, despite average incomes falling by 7.9%. Guiney described this cut as “disconcerting”. He claimed that as this saves the Government €5 million every year that the Students’ Union needs “to find a solution or an alternative to where we can find that extra expenditure so it isn’t taken away from the basic grant.”
This cut to the thresholds will effect 8% of the total estimated 80,000 grant recipients, resulting in many students being pushed into lower grant rate brackets, or not qualifying for a grant at all. It is estimated that 6,500 students will lose up to €750 in maintenance assistance. over the course of the next academic year. However, this cut doesn’t come into effect until next year, so will not affect any student currently receiving the maintenance grant.
The Cost of Education Allowance has also been discontinued from 2013/2014. This €300 payment aided students returning to education with the various costs associated with college. Logue said: “The Budget has also hit people brave enough to return to education. By discontinuing the €300 Cost of Education Allowance, the Government has eliminated assistance that helped students to pay for books and administrative costs. With its removal, the Minister has removed crucial financial assistance for people seeking to learn new skills so that they might gain employment.”
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn has cut Government funding to Higher Education institutions including UCD by €25 million in total. This will result in a financial hole which universities will have to find ways to fill. Minister Quinn has requested that the Higher Education Authority ensure that “this measure will not impact on frontline student services” however there has been speculation that this will result in increased fees or charges where there were never charges before on student services, in order to make up the difference.
In response to these announcements, USI are calling on students and families to contact their TDs to explain how these cuts will affect them. According to Logue, USI also promises to “escalate its campaign to reverse these harsh and regressive measures.” Guiney added that he “will be proposing at council tomorrow that we must continue to press on with this campaign over the months ahead” and he suspects a definitive campaign plan will emerge after USI National Council, due to take place this Saturday, December 8th.