The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has said that the government has “ignored the systemic barriers preventing students from accessing higher education”. In a statement published in reaction to the announcement of the government budget for 2021, USI said that these barriers can “only be addressed through continuous financial support and not through one-off funding packages.”
As part of the budget, the government announced an allocation of €3.3 billion to the Department of Higher Education. This includes the introduction of a €50 million hardship fund for students affected by Covid-19. The fund is expected to be delivered in the form of a single universal payment of €250 to every student, either in addition to the SUSI grant or as a partial refund of their registration fee.
USI had called for a €500 reduction to the €3000 Student Contribution charge and said they were “extremely disappointed” that this was not met: “This would have been a commitment from this Government to recognise and address the underlying problem – that students face the highest fees in the EU, which are a financial barrier to accessing education.” The statement acknowledged that the €250 payment would help to ease the impact that Covid-19 has had on students, but said that this payment alone “does not recognise the longer term financial pressures that students face”.
The statement did however welcome the announcement of a full review of the SUSI student support grants, emphasizing the need for student involvement in the review process, and saying that it “needs to be implemented as soon as possible.” USI said that the are “keen to be involved in this review”.
USI also welcomed the increase of the SUSI payment for postgraduate students from €2000 to €3500, but said that “vital issues around precarious conditions and stipend rates have been neglected”.
The Union also praised the extension of the PATH 2 programme to 200 additional students, and the announcement that extra third-level spaces that were provided this year would be kept into the future
“It will also be important that additional core funding for student supports are also available to match this increase.”
The statement called on government to “provide further clarification to the 30,000 students in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment in relation to their eligibility to receive this necessary support while engaging in education.” It said that continued access to the payment is essential for students who have lost their jobs.
Finally, USI said that, in failing to address the issue of “sustainable core funding”, Government “has failed to commit to a model which views and funds education as a public good”.