Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor appears to have advised students to use their Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant to cover the cost of accommodation.
Speaking to Leaving Certificate students in Blackrock, Minister Mitchell O’Connor said she was “very disappointed that student accommodation was put up in our universities and higher education institutes”, referencing recent reports of Irish universities raising the cost of on-campus rent.
“But what I would say is there are SUSI grants available, up to 48% of our student population avails of student grants. So make sure now that you log on to the SUSI application and make sure that you have filled out the application,” she said.
Students generally use the SUSI grant to cover the €3,000 student contribution. The remaining €3,000 would not cover the average annual cost of rent in Dublin.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) officers reacted to the minister’s advice on Twitter this morning. Lorna Fitzpatrick, USI President, tweeted: “This might have been possible years ago but the reality is that the grant is not enough to support students anymore. SUSI was cut in 2011 and there has been little to no improvement since then. The cost of living has risen but the support has not. The figures speak for themselves.”
Michelle Byrne, Deputy USI President and Vice President for Campaigns, wrote: “Sorry Mary, but the SUSI grant didn’t even cover my rent eight years ago when I was in first year living in Waterford! However we would all be amenable to the idea of you bringing up the SUSI grant rates to meet the accommodation cost.”
Laura Beston, president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) said: “SUSI is defined as a maintenance grant, on their website it says it is to cover living expenses. Living expenses cover the very basics from food to clothing. It should not be used to pay rent but the majority of students who do not live at home are having to use it to pay some of their rent, often working to cover the rest, which is often a figure in the thousands.”
She continued: “We are in an accommodation crisis and the government should acknowledge that. It’s embarrassing that they should suggest the grant be used for a service they should be providing for students. Bar a rent cap little to nothing has been done for students. Forcing students to solve their own problems is not what our government is in office to do.”
After congratulating the Leaving Certificate students on their results, published on Tuesday, Mitchell O’Connor also advised her Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown constituents to contact her office if they are denied a grant. “If you are turned down by any chance you can appeal and again you know you can contact my office if you are a local constituent, but actually the SUSI appeals system is very robust and they will also help you,” she said.
“SUSI” trended on Twitter following the minister’s comments, while Sinn Fein also criticised the minister’s advice. Sinn Fein said in a press statement: “This comment from the Minister shows just how arrogant and out of touch Fine Gael are with the costs facing third level students.”
A recent study released in August found that accommodation remains the largest cost associated with higher education for parents in Ireland, while the cost of on-campus accommodation has surpassed private rental accommodation for the first time.
The cost of on-campus accommodation rose by an average of €777 since last year, while the cost of accommodation in Trinity has risen by almost 6%.
The article was updated at 6:05pm to include a comment from TCDSU president Laura Beston.