Rising employment and income levels have seen grant applications drop, despite funding being available again for postgraduate students this year.
At the close of applications this week, the total number of claims for support with fees and living costs was 87,738 which was 0.3%, or 264, less than the same time last year.
Returning or prospective students in further and higher education courses can continue to apply to Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) for financial aid. But, with around 17,000 more people still expected to apply, priority will be given to those who did so up to Thursday night’s deadline.
After several consecutive year-on-year increases, the number entered for Leaving Certificate exams in June was almost identical to last year, at just under 56,600.
From among those students, the number who applied to third-level colleges through the Central Applications Office (CAO) is 47,629, just 15 fewer than at the same time in 2016.
But an increase in Susi applications may have been expected due to Education Minister Richard Bruton’s announcement in Budget 2017 last October that postgraduate students will be eligible again for maintenance support.
Although they have continued to be entitled to support with college fees, living costs were not considered for postgraduate students since a range of cuts to the student support budget in 2012
While numbers of postgraduate applicants to Susi are not yet known, they are likely to be up on recent years when only assistance with fees had been available.
However, Susi believes that any increase may have been offset by more people deciding not to apply because of improved family circumstances.
“While the Government decision on grants may make them more accessible for lower-income postgraduate students, incomes have also grown in recent years, so more people may have deemed themselves ineligible to apply,” said Susi head of communications Graham Doyle.
The ability for prospective applicants to get a better idea of their likelihood to qualify for assistance using an eligibility reckoner on the Susi website was a factor in some reductions in business last year.
Mr Doyle said the 3,000 applications fewer than was originally expected last year was very similar to the fall in the number of applications which were unsuccessful.
Of applications received by Thursday’s deadline, just over 47,500 were from new applicants and the remaining 40,200 were by those who received assistance in the last college year and are seeking aid again for 2017/18.
Mr Doyle said that 45,000 of the 77,500 applications which were received by last Monday had already been decided, with about 4,000 turned down.
Of the 41,000 who have been provisionally approved for grants or full cost of fees , or both, 11,000 were among this year’s first-time applicants. The vast majority of these 11,000 are from among this year’s Leaving Certificate students, Mr Doyle said.
“This is really positive news and this number will only increase before the issuing of Leaving Certificate results and CAO offers in August. These students can then make a more fully informed decision when deciding if they are to accept their college offers,” he said.
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