In pre-budget statements made last week, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has attempted to warn TDs about future cuts to the already dwindling student maintenance grant.
The primary focus of the submission revolved around preserving the grant at all costs in order to safeguard already financially vulnerable students. Since 2008, third-level funding from the government has been reduced by 25%.
The briefing outlined the priorities students placed on specific aspects of their expenditure, coinciding with proposed measures to tackle the health and welfare requirements of young people nationwide. It demands that decisions made in Budget 2014 uphold the fundamental principle of equality of educational access.
They also asked the government to guarantee that the grant will not be depleted in rate, threshold, or eligibility as it has been for the past four years.
USI have said that if these conditions are met, the opportunities and employment prospects are limitless for graduates on completion of their studies. They argue that a cut to the grant will inevitably weaken access and retention to university level countrywide and create a domino effect of drop-outs.
The Union acknowledges that “the grant system is not perfect, but it is the main support we provide to ensure equality of access to third level; to get people into college that otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.”
As Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, announced that the planning to increase the Student Contribution Charge to €3,000 by 2015 had begun, USI requested that a study be conducted on the financial and mental impact of the incremental increases on students and families and for the Minister to consider a timeline for “post-recessionary row backs.”
Quinn has said that “it is clear that we have to proceed over the next few years within a very constrained funding environment.” USI has also stressed the continual support necessary for active mature student participation in Higher Education.
They have condemned changes to the Back to Education Allowance, the support system for mature students and have pushed for a fairer postgraduate loan scheme.
Last year, 76,600 students were supported by the student grant scheme, 38% of all full-time students. USI caution that if the government continues down this education austerity path, it will face the anger of students.
According to O’Connor, the government faces an ultimatum. “[The government] can either cut the student grant, which will cost millions and hurt families in the short-term, or it can protect the most vulnerable students and ensure they are supported through third-level and into employment.”