A “fundamental overhaul” of the grants on offer to students is needed to improve access to third level education, according to Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education.
Mr Harris was speaking at a panel discussion organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) around emerging issues for the sector due to Covid-19, and the future of funding.
In order to begin removing barriers to third-level education, a "fundamental overhaul" of the SUSI grant system will be needed, according to Mr Harris.
“I accept that the grant system of today is certainly not fit for tomorrow, whether it's fit for today, you can debate," he said.
"We’re telling people they need to earn and learn more, but it doesn’t submit part-time learning. We’re telling more and more people they need to do post-grads, and we’re not supporting that enough.”
Officials in his department are drawing up a plan around how best to review the system, he said, adding that some changes to SUSI have been made in the interim this year in light of Covid-19.
Lorna Fitzpatrick, president of the Union of Students Ireland (USI), said many students are "rightly angered" at the prospect of having to pay full fees for the year, given that they will have limited access to college campuses.
"But they were also rightly angered to have to pay €3,000 for fees last year too, its too high in a normal year. We believe it must be addressed immediately, but the reduction in student fees must be covered and met with overall investment."
Small and shared student accommodation spaces can cost thousands of euros, she added.
"This can be a barrier to access. The highest possible SUSI grant is €650 a month. There are very few rentals, especially in larger cities, where that would cover rent, never mind food, books, and transport."
Meanwhile, the University College Dublin (UCD) Students' Union said it is disappointed to hear from many students that their courses will be fully online this semester. Over the summer, the union had raised concerns that the university was "over-promising" on class time when it told undergraduates that 40-60% of their courses would be carried out in-person and on-campus.
According to the union, this has led to two major issues; students have signed leases on the knowledge some classes would be face-to-face, and some students have travelled from abroad and now find their course is entirely online.