The grant provided by the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) does not cover even half of the cost of accommodation in Ireland’s major cities, a committee has heard.
The SUSI grant, which provides funding to third-level students for fees and maintenance, also fails to reflect the cost of living, particularly for housing.
Ciara Fanning, president of the Irish Second-Level Students Union, (ISSU) told the Oireachtas Education Committee that some students have been forced to leave their part-time employment because of barriers they face in accessing the SUSI grants.
She told the committee that student’s own income would put them just over the edge of the eligibility criteria, meaning there is “more to lose than gain” by working part time.
The grant covers student’s fees while the maintenance grant covers a student’s day-to-day living expenses.
It is paid directly to students in nine monthly installments.
Almost 100,000 applications are received every year and almost 80,000 grants are awarded representing 350 million euro annually in grant support for students.
Ms Fanning said that while the SUSI grant still serves its purpose as an accessibility tool to allow students to progress to third level, the amount payable to recipients has remained the same since 2012.
“This is not reflective of the cost of living now faced by students, particularly for housing in larger cities,” she said.
“Where once a maintenance grant of 3,000 euro may have covered the full cost of accommodation for the academic term, now it does not even cover half in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
USI President @Lornafitz3 begins her presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills on 'Eligibility Criteria of SUSI'. This Submission can be found here 👉https://t.co/R982oq4Mqo #SUSI #USI19 pic.twitter.com/zVTW3wR51I— Union Of Students In Ireland (@TheUSI) September 12, 2019
“For the SUSI grant to fulfil its intended purpose it is integral that it be increased to reflect the increased cost of living for students to make third level education as accessible as possible, or allowances made for students attending institutions in the larger towns and cities.”
Lorna Fitzpatrick, president of the Union Of Students In Ireland (USI) which represents 374,000 students across Ireland, told the committee there is a need for further flexibility in the applications procedure.
“As we know, life can be full of unexpected occurrences and as a result, some applications may not fit the criteria as comfortably as others,” she said.
“We believe there should be flexibility to support students through the application procedure and that they should be supported when there is a clear need but may not have fully met each individual criteria required.
“This flexibility should extend to supporting documentation requested and we believe the documentation accepted should be reviewed and extended, especially in relation to residency and independent status.”
She called for the earnings limit and specific time period that students can work under the current holiday earnings be removed.
She said that while the SUSI grant helps to alleviate some financial pressures, students in Ireland face the highest fees in the world and with the spiralling cost of living, students need additional support.
Philip Connolly, grants processing manager at SUSI, said that the highest reason for refusals in applications is income.
Fianna Fail’s Robbie Gallagher said there are “serious problems” with the SUSI grant adding that it practices a “door shut or door open policy”.
He called for an annual review of the refusals process.
“It’s the inflexibility of SUSI that frustrates people,” he added.
“Our key goal is that there are no barriers for any child wanting to go to further education.
“For a certain cohort of people there is no help whatsoever.
“If you living in rural Ireland and don’t live close to the cities, then the cost of accommodation is a major issue.
“It’s putting some families under severe financial pressure, so much so that they are having to make do with very little so their children can go to college.”
Ms Fanning also said that the students union has taken “massive issue” with the barriers that students in direct provision face.
She described the international fees as “skyrocket rates”.
“They’re unbelievable and they are absolutely impossible for people in these centres and an emergency accommodation to actually provide for,” she told the committee.
“We would just like to make the point that direct provision students do sit the same Leaving Cert as Irish students.
“They do the same work, they could come out with 625 points and they still don’t have access to college, which is something that is absolutely unbelievable and a massive oversight with the system.
“But the issue does come back to the actual system itself. It’s not only a fact that there is a massive barrier when it comes to accessing third level, but there is a huge issue for education for students in the direct provision system in second level as well.
“They don’t have proper nutrition in a lot of centres and there’s also a lack of a safe environment for learning.”