‘It is devastating. Without a grant, I can’t afford course’

MICHELLE Mitchell’s chances of fulfilling her dream to study at third-level could be dashed unless a Government cutback is reversed.

The 47-year-old mother-of-two has applied for entry as a mature student to an arts degree in children’s studies at National University of Ireland Galway next autumn, in the hope of working with children with special needs.

Her sons Jonathan, 23, and Roland, whose 17th birthday is today, have special needs and she wants to give something back because of the help she has had from the state and the Brothers of Charity, whose services teach Roland. She receives a lone parent’s allowance and half a carer’s allowance, giving her around €15,000 a year income.

However, the budget last December means mature students like Michelle who are eligible for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) as welfare recipients will no longer also be allowed receive a student maintenance grant worth up to €3,000. The BTEA is a payment which allows people dependent on welfare payments to keep their entitlements while attending courses.

“It is devastating, I have been working hard since last August on the access programme which prepares mature students. But since the budget, I won’t be able to get a grant and I could never afford to take on the course,” she said.

“I would need someone to mind Roland in the afternoons and it could cost around €1,800 a month. The grant would not cover that entire cost but it would make it affordable,” said Michelle from Mervue in Galway.

She and her teenage son travelled to Dublin yesterday for a meeting organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) calling on Education Minister and Tánaiste Mary Coughlan to reverse the change in grant eligibility. Up to 3,000 BTEA recipients moving on to new courses could be affected in the autumn, along with thousands more first-time applicants for the allowance, according to USI.

The measure was recommended in An Bord Snip Nua’s report last summer and could save around €35 million a year by 2012.

But USI president Peter Mannion said college will never be a reality for thousands of people without this financial assistance from the Government.

“With commitments such as families or mortgages, it is necessary that mature students retain the right to be treated fairly and continue to receive the student maintenance grant,” he said.

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