By Aidan Crowley
Recent budget outlines increases in grant amounts and thresholds:
The first increase in third-level student grants in more than a decade was announced in last month’s Budget. Agreement was reached on raising grant levels, in addition to changing the eligibility criteria, allowing more students to fall within qualifying income thresholds. The levels of student grants took a severe battering, back in the 2011 Budget, at the height of government cut-backs and they have never managed to recover.
The student grants scheme is administered by a centralised agency called Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) and the changes come hot on the heels of a major review, initiated by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), has been clamouring for reform of the scheme, arguing that cost is by far the biggest barrier to participation in third-level education. Student representatives, around the country, have said that, this year in particular, there has been a notable increase in requests for both financial and food assistance, which is being attributed to the soaring cost of accommodation.
Student grants will rise by a flat rate of Euros 200 from September 2022. This “across the board” increase will benefit around 62,000 students, who receive maintenance support to help with cost-of-living increases. Current annual payments range from Euros 305 to Euros 5,915 and all are set to increase by Euros 200. This is one of three key changes to the SUSI grant scheme, after a decade of stalemate. The income threshold to qualify for grants will increase by Euros 1000, ensuring that more students will qualify and more families can access the available support. In a third key move, the qualifying distance for payment of the higher “non-adjacent” grant, which stipulates the distance between a student’s home and their college, will be reduced from 45 km to 30 km.
Meanwhile, colleges have already received increased funding to the tune of Euros 22 million to support student mental health and well-being. The Student Assistance Fund (SAF), which allows colleges to support students who are struggling financially, has almost doubled, this year, from Euros 9 million to Euros 17 million. Students can now apply to the fund, to help with costs, such as textbooks and class materials, rent and other utility bills, food, essential travel, childcare and medical costs. A further Euros 5 million, on top of Euros 5 million, awarded last year, is also being made available for student counselling services and the roll-out of innovative mental health and well-being supports for students, in addition to training for staff.
Mr. Harris said: “Students have endured an incredibly difficult eighteen months, due to Covid-19. They are now back on campus, but they still need significant support, financial and other. The long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health has the potential to be significant.” All colleges have now been advised of their individual Budget allocations, which is part of a Euros 105 million financial package, announced last July, to support the return to on-campus activity.