Despite the considerable cutbacks imposed on the education sector by the recent Budget, the Government’s spending estimate for grants is up by 6% to 277.9 million EUR. This is in response to a surge in demand for grant aid due to the current economic downturn. Nearly 3,000 more students applied for maintenance grants this year, increasing the number of applications by at least 5% in the past few months. However, rates are due to remain frozen until at least January 2010. Orlaith Foley, TCD SU Welfare Officer, said that “The government did not increase the grant in any way, making life much tougher for families already struggling. While inflation is running at 4%, this effectively amounts to a decrease in the financial supports being offered to students.”
The standard full rate is currently at EUR 3,420. According to Shane Kelly, USI president, only a minority of 10% of the 57,000 students who received grant aid last year received this sum. The remainder received the 50% assistance rate of EUR 1,710 or less. For students who come from within 24 km of their college, this figure is more than halved to EUR 685. The maximum possible rate of EUR 6,690 is allocated only to the 10% of students in the lowest family income band of EUR 20,000.
These rates are grossly inadequate, leaving a considerable gap between the estimated cost of attending college and the grant aid available. Dublin Institute of Technology has judged that students living away from home will be set back by approximately EUR 8,403 per year. Even those living at home are expected to face an outlay of EUR 3,861.
However, despite the glaring discrepancy between grant rates and the cost of third level education, even worse off are the middle income families who are just above the cut-off point, some by as little as €100. According to Ms. Foley, “The direct result of this has been the increase in applications to the Student Assistance Fund, which is administered through the Senior Tutors office. We have seen record numbers of students applying for this funding, both from students who will get a maintenance grant and those who are falling short of the maintenance grant thresholds.”
She added, “The grant cut off points were released very late this summer.
The fact that the grant announcement came so late this year has resulted in a huge delay in the administration surrounding the applications and means that to date few grants have actually been distributed. This means that the majority of Trinity students had to pay their registration fee.”
Batt O’Keeffe, Minister of Education and Science, will heap further hardship on students next year by increasing this fee by 67% to €1,500. Shane Kelly, USI President, denounced the 2009 Budget measures as “an underhanded way of generating revenue to facilitate Government cutbacks and are essentially, the first step towards the re-introduction of full tuition fees.”