The warning came as more than 1,000 students of University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology marched on the constituency office of Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer amid claims that some can’t afford to buy food, pay for heat, or pay rent.
It was the first of a series of regional rallies organised by the Union of Students in Ireland that will take place before the Dec 5 budget.
USI deputy president Kate Acheson said: “Our campaign has layers. It’s not just marches, it not just protests. There are many avenues that the USI has researched that we want the Government to look at. We want them to exhaust all these opportunities to fund third-level education before hitting grants.”
UCC Students’ Union welfare officer Dave Carey said he received 300 applications over two weeks from students seeking money from a European student hardship fund. He said he has particular concerns about mature and postgraduate students.
“This year, they [the Government] have once again cut the postgraduate grant. We have dropped 17% in postgraduate registration this year alone just because there are no grants there for them.
“I have people in to me on a weekly basis who can’t afford to eat, pay their rent, or their heating.”
UCC Student Union president Eoghan Healy said he recognises that students are not the only interest group in the budget firing line.
“But education is such a fundamental part of this state’s recovery,” he said.
CIT student welfare officer Niamh Hayes said: “Students are finding it so difficult to live day-to-day — to pay for accommodation, transport and food. They can’t pay their fees and are looking to see if the college can do anything.”
The student leaders met Mr Buttimer and asked him to take their concerns directly to Government. Mr Buttimer said he understands their concerns and frustrations. “But there is no easy solution to this budget, unfortunately,” he said.
“Education is the passport to a career and a better future, and we should encourage people to third-level and stay,” he said. He refused to comment on whether he would support a budget that contained fee hikes or grant cuts.
Students from St Angela’s College, Sligo, will protest at the office of Fine Gael’s John Perry at 12.30pm today.
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