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I WRITE in relation to recent changes made to the eligibility criteria for Higher Education Authority (HEA) grants and fees for students wishing to take postgraduate courses in Irish universities.
I am a student wishing to partake in a masters of social work programme in UCC. Until June of this year I was eligible for payment of tuition fees and a maintenance grant that would have enabled me to participate in this course. But recent changes imposed by the HEA now preclude me from attending this course as I have failed to meet the relevant application criteria on the grounds that I have been absent from university for one year.
The HEA will no longer pay fees and grants to those absent from third-level full-time education for no less than three consecutive years. Therefore I am no longer entitled to tuition fees, which total €14,000, or a maintenance grant, despite the fact that I received a grant for my previous four years of college.
I am now considered to be an “independent, mature” candidate who, due to the recession and the absence of full-time employment, cannot afford to pay €14,000 fees, plus living expenses, for a two-year, full-time masters of social work.
I find this move to be unfair to myself and to the thousands of students who are not in a position to pay expensive tuition fees and are not eligible for student loans. I think this move precludes those wishing to enter postgraduate courses as the fees are too high and also prevents them from accessing secure employment in the Irish labour market.
Not only will this absurd move prevent many graduates from accessing further education, it will also make them much less employable in the coming years and not fit for our new ‘smart’ economy.
This is a counterproductive measure that will further increase unemployment and cause a surge in social welfare applications.
I believe the cost to the taxpayer will be enormous, as those wishing to take postgraduate courses will now be denied this valuable opportunity.
I would like to illustrate this point thus... the Department of Social Protection will end up paying out approximately €20,000 (per person) in social welfare payments over the two-year period when one could be in college obtaining an MA, thus leaving college to begin a life of paying taxes. To my mind, making social welfare payments to the value of €20,000 for two years, and a further €20,000 when one returns to college as an independent mature candidate, is absolutely absurd. Why fund someone for four years when you could fund them for two and see them earning at the end of that time? This infuriates me.
I do not suppose for one second the HEA will change this new rule, but I would be very interested to hear why they have brought it in at such a late stage when postgraduate applications have been submitted and people have been through gruelling interviews. I would also like to hear from anybody who may be in the same position I find myself in and what, if anything other than assuming student loans, they are doing to fund their courses?
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