Budget 2024 was announced on Tuesday, October 11, with a package of measures worth €14bn. Within that hefty package, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s budget has increased from €3.2bn in Budget 2023 to €4.148bn – but how does a budget equivalent to the GDP of the country of Eswatini actually support the College experience?
The increased funding allocation includes €60m to address staff-to-student ratios going into the new year, over €4m to increase the number of places in medicine, and €67m to increase the total number of apprenticeships available in the country.
As was implemented in previous years, the student contribution charge is set to be reduced by €1,000 for all third-level students.
Students who live in households earning less than €100,000 will qualify for additional fee reductions via SUSI’s student contribution grant. This grant provides students with an additional €500 towards their student contribution charge thus halving these students’ fees down to €1,500. Those who wish to avail of this grant must make an application through the SUSI website.
Students who have already paid their fees need not worry, as overpayments are set to be refunded, similar to previous years. Those who have paid for half of their €3,000 student contribution charge, and who qualify for the student contribution grant will not be required to pay anything in addition to what they have already paid. Those who do not qualify for this grant are still liable to pay the balance of their fees in the second semester.
While these reductions are certainly of benefit to students, one should be aware that these measures are, as has been in the case with many measures in the past, a once-off. This means that the €3,000 contribution charge – the highest third-level fees in the European Union – remains the default fee amount and students will remain liable to pay this in the 2024/25 academic year, pending any further reduction in next year’s budget.
Government first indicated it was considering introducing the fee reduction for this budget at the beginning of the summer, and it will be a long while yet before we know what to expect from government in the next academic year.
In response to the once-off measures, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said that it is difficult to view Budget 2024 “as anything other than an overall disappointment”.
“The package will put some money back in students’ pockets, however, Budget 2024 had no measures that will have a medium or long-term impact on the cost of third-level education,” the union said.
USI pointed towards the issue of affordability and availability of student accommodation in the country as a major concern to be addressed by the government.
Free third-level education
This budget’s progress towards free third-level education has been viewed more favourably. From September 2024, students who live in households with an income of less that €55,924 will not pay any fees, as the maximum threshold for students to receive 100% SUSI funding for their fees is increased.
All students partaking in Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) coursers are also to have their fees wiped from September 2024.
These initiatives represent positive steps towards zero third-level-fees, and interestingly have not been described as a once-off by government, in contrast to the emphasis on once-off measures that apply to the undergraduate student contribution charge.
Undergraduate students who receive SUSI grant funding will also be pleased to hear that maintenance grants are being increased from January. Students will receive as much as an additional €342 from January to March, depending on their grant rate.
During the 2024/25 academic year, maintenance grants will increase by €615 for all non-adjacent rates, and will range from €54 to €294 for adjacent rates.
Commenting on his department’s work, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said: “We are pursuing our ambition to reduce the cost of education as much as possible while also providing students with much needed relief by putting money back into their pockets.”
Rent Tax Credit
This year’s budget has seen the Rent Tax Credit (RTC) increased from €500 to €750. The RTC has also been extended to those living in digs, something Minister Simon Harris previously said was a particular concern for him.
Newly eligible residents in digs can also claim the backdated payments of €500 for both this year and last.
Those who wish to avail of this measure must live in a property which is registered with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB). When the Rent Tax Credit was previously introduced, several tenants failed to claim it as they were worried their tenancy was not RTB registered or their landlord would not provide it. Many reports suggested tenants feared increased rents or even eviction if they approached their landlord for the RTB number.
However, the RTB website states that tenants don’t need to have an RTB registration number to claim the credit, as long as they have tried to confirm it.
Those living in student accommodation can also find their Student Specific Accommodation (SSA) number on the RTB website. It is also important to highlight that this tax credit is available on an individual basis, meaning the €750 credit is available for each individual resident, not the entire property.
Parents who pay for their child’s accommodation can claim the credit through their own Revenue account.
This year’s budget is to see postgraduate maintenance payments reintroduced for the first time since the financial crisis.
These payments will be available to postgraduates from January with eligible students expected to receive amounts ranging from €340 to €2,384 during the January to March period.
During the 2024/25 academic year, these grants will range from €1,666 to €4,292 for those receiving the non-adjacent rate, and from €612 to €1,774 for those receiving the adjacent rate.
Postgraduate students in receipt of the Postgraduate Fee Contribution Grant are to receive an additional €1,000 this year. This brings the grant’s value to €5,000 for the 2023/24 academic year.
These measures have caused backlash from the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation (PWO) who took to Twitter saying: “Budget 2024 fails to address any of the issues faced by PhD workers.”
The organisation criticised the government for failing to increase PhD researchers’ stipends, thus increasing the gap between PhD stipends and the minimum wage, and for failing to introduce parental or sick leave.
The PWO called the situation “unacceptable” and raised the possibility of industrial action.
Budget 2024 has announced an additional €67m towards apprenticeships.
This additional funding is set to bring the number of apprenticeships available in 2024 to 16,000, an increase of 3,000 places from 2022.
This additional funding is hoped to reduce waiting times, increase the availability of this route among under-represented groups, and “make apprenticeships an attractive career path for young people”.
Apprentices are also set to benefit from a 33% reduction in their contribution fee.
Speaking on these developments, Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins said: “With today’s Budget, I am further committed to investing in our apprentices nationwide who will be key to meeting the challenges of today and those that lie ahead.”
Budget 2024 includes a range of other measures which are of benefit to students, such as the maintenance and expansion of half-price public transport fares to young adults. The scheme is being extended to those who are 24 and 25 years of age.
Other developments include funding towards Ireland’s application for associate membership of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the start of a new scheme to help employers with the cost of upskilling their staff, and additional funding to support the National Tertiary Office (NTO), thus delivering additional access to Level 8 courses without the need for a CAO application.