Less stress, not enough finesse: Life with SUSI

Alison Traynor details her experiences of receiving the SUSI grant

The rare breed of student who bothered to attend S.P.H.E classes in school will probably understand the basics of SUSI, as will those who have braved the mountains of paperwork that it takes to apply for it. However, for the remainder of the student population, it likely remains a foggy concept. So, what exactly is the SUSI grant? At its most basic level, SUSI stands for Student Universal Support Ireland. It provides students, who meet a specific set of criteria, with financial aid in order to contribute towards their college fees and sometimes their general living costs.

Having received the SUSI grant payment for three years to varying degrees, I count myself as a bit of an expert on its inner workings. Despite several issues with the system, receiving the grant has certainly been of benefit to me throughout my time in Trinity. During my Senior Freshman year, I received a partial grant which covered half of my fees. Since then, my family’s financial situation has changed and I now receive a full SUSI grant which covers my €3000 student contribution and also provides me with a nominal payment of €135 every month.

“I have witnessed first hand the way in which this assessment method does not take into consideration the larger picture.”

In order to be considered for the SUSI grant, the financial status of a student’s household is assessed. This may seem like a fair process on paper, but I have witnessed first hand the way in which this assessment method does not take into consideration the larger picture. While I do not come from a family of extremely high earners, I come from a family who have prioritised my education and saved money over many years in order to ensure that I would be able to attend college. This, in my mind, is a very privileged position to be in. Plenty of my friends, many of whom come from significantly wealthier backgrounds than I, struggle to pay their college fees yet they do not qualify for SUSI. Eligibility for the grant is based on the assumption that your parents or guardians will be willing to pay your college fees if they earn a certain amount of money. This, of course, is not always the case.  

Various factors dictate how beneficial the SUSI grant is to individual students. I am lucky, considering that I was born and raised in Dublin and still live in my family home. This being the case, the grant provides me with what might be referred to as contingency cash. Essentially, if I am faced with an unexpected charge, I know that I can cover it with my SUSI money. While personally I find this to be ideal, it would be of little help if I, like many students, also had to cover the cost of rent.  

Moreover, the SUSI grant has enabled me to avoid lengthy working hours, and in doing so has allowed me to focus on college work and extracurricular activities. This is something which has been extremely beneficial to me, in terms of my personal and academic life and general health and wellbeing. As an Arts student, I have a grand total of four hours of lectures per week. Despite this, I still find my workload to be stressful, and the thought of studying while also working twenty or thirty hours per week seems inconceivable. If I also had full-time classes, as many students in areas such as STEM do, I would undoubtedly be unable to cope with the pressure of having a job at the same time. However, many students with long hours are ineligible for a student grant. The way in which financial pressures can negatively impact students mental health cannot be understated, and it is something that needs to be taken into consideration by universities and the government alike. 

“Overall, the SUSI grant has provided me with much more than just paid fees.”

Overall, the SUSI grant has provided me with much more than just paid fees. It has allowed me, in some small way to feel more relaxed about my financial situation, and the importance of that cannot be overstated. This is something which I believe every student deserves to have.

So, if the SUSI grant ever became unavailable to students, what would the alternative be? The answer to that is an unfortunate one: student loan schemes. In September, Trinity’s provost, Patrick Prendergast weighed in on the issue, stating that he is in favour of an “income-contingent student loan scheme”. This, he claimed, would enable students to focus on their studies instead of pursuing part-time jobs during college. 

On the surface, a world where students are not burdened by the stress of balancing work and study is an attractive one, but it is not rooted in reality. Prendergast’s statement ignores the full implications of student loan schemes. It is true that working while also attending college can be onerous, but so is debt. If the goal is to alleviate students’ stress-levels, the idea of student loan schemes needs to be re-evaluated.  

“Essentially, without a diverse mix of people, Trinity is nothing.”

Students from non-wealthy backgrounds are already at a disadvantage to their affluent peers, and they do not need any more barriers to accessing high quality third level education. The provision of grants to less privileged students is ultimately something that will benefit all universities. Going to college should be an experience which broadens our minds, allows us to meet different people, and challenges our established attitudes. This cannot happen without the help of students from a large range of different backgrounds. Essentially, without a diverse mix of people, Trinity is nothing.

Alison Traynor

Alison Traynor is the current Life Editor of Trinity News.