60,000 students hit by grants freeze

UP to 60,000 students have been left counting the cost after their grants were frozen for a second year in a row despite an 11% rise in third-level education costs in the same period.

In a move that will put many hard-pressed students and their families under more pressure, Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe has announced rates of between €345 and €6,690.

However, Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures show third-level costs have increased by 5% in the last year and by 10.9% in the two years to last month, despite a drop in the cost of living in the same period.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) expressed outrage at the grants freeze at a time when those starting college this year face the prospect of paying tuition fees after they graduate. They said the move will significantly decrease the numbers of students being able to access third level.

“Rents might be falling, but students are looking at much higher costs for books, lab equipment and costs. Then there’s the outrageous 66% hike in the registration fee to €1,500 for those who don’t qualify for grants, which is more than many European countries charge in tuition fees,” said USI president Peter Mannion.

Mr O’Keeffe’s spokesperson said the aim was to widen access to college as much as possible within a constrained budget by increasing income thresholds for some categories of support by 3.4% in line with average wage increases.

“The cost of living is coming down and that has to be a factor in any assessment of how far these grant payments go, and the income limits have been increased despite the economic downturn. We’re going to have more applicants this year, but the aim has been to target supports at those who need them most,” he said.

The income below which students qualify for the highest grant rate – €6,690 if studying away from home or €2,680 for those at college near home – is up 11% to €22,308.

While An Bord Snip Nua recently proposed ways of cutting the Department of Education’s €297 million student grant bill by €70m, the partial increase in income thresholds is likely to lead to a significant increase in the cost because of the huge rise in households affected by unemployment and reduced incomes over the last year. The department has no estimate of the likely number of eligible students and the extra spend which would result.

Grant applications can be submitted to local councils or vocational education committees, but thousands of students must wait until the first round of college place offers in mid-August before applying.

Around 56,000 students qualified for grants last year but, in a measure likely to restrict eligibility from next year, Mr O’Keeffe also announced changes to the way some applications will be assessed for the 2010/2011 college year. These include changes in how income is means-tested for children of farmers, the inclusion of the Back to Education and other social welfare allowances in assessed income, and increasing the length of time students must be living in Ireland to qualify for a grant from one to three years of the previous five years.

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd