The Union of Students in Ireland is calling on political parties to honour their commitments to in their general election manifestos and work to reinstate postgraduate grants, following Fianna Fáil’s recent public support for their reintroduction. USI said the Green Party, Labour, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Social Democrats and AAA/PBPA all committed to the reintroduction of postgraduate grants in their manifestos.
Fine Gael did not commit to the reintroduction of postgraduate grants in their GE manifestos, but USI is calling on Fianna Fáil to work with parliamentary colleagues to ensure these grants are brought back.
“Since the postgraduate grants were cut four years ago, thousands of students have been denied the opportunity of progressing beyond undergraduate level.” Jack Leahy, USI Deputy President said. “We are urging all political parties to work together to ensure the barriers to accessing education, upward mobility and long-term career progression are broken. We are also calling on other political parties to align their policies and priorities with this commitment and the commitments set out in their manifestos. USI welcomes political parties prioritising postgraduate education and viewing it as a national asset, not a financial strain.”
In July 2012, the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland, said that the government’s decision to cut postgraduate maintenance grants was ‘inconsistent with the national skills policy’. Mr. Boland said the HEA did not advise the then-Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, on the issue of postgraduate grant cuts, but in his personal opinion the decision seemed at odds with the stated policy of the government to develop a smart economy.
“Tom Boland’s statement in 2012 on cutting postgraduate maintenance grants outlines that the decision was made without fully thinking through the effects it would have on students and young people.” Leahy said. “Postgraduate qualifications have now become imperative for refining skills and abilities for many jobs, especially in a country at the forefront of scientific, medicine and tech development, like Ireland, which is why they are so vital for students, and for our country to sustain a strong workforce and growing economy.”
This week, Fianna Fáil said the reintroduction of postgraduate grants for thousands of students was “absolutely essential”. Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman, said a new education strategy being prepared by Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, should include steps to correct damage caused by five years of “regressive” politics.
Richard Bruton, Minister for Education, has also said “The Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to ‘increase financial supports for post graduate students with a particular focus on those from low income households’. All proposals made in relation to education expenditure, including changes to postgraduate student grants, will be considered in the context of the Budget 2017.”
USI is asking Minister Bruton to make a public statement to outline his precise plans to reintroduce student grants for postgraduate students, as per discussions which took place between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil during government formation negotiations. According to Minister Bruton, if maintenance grants were reintroduced for post-graduate students along similar lines to under-graduate students, the estimated cost would be in the region of €53m.
A survey conducted by the Union of Students in Ireland in June surveyed 878 students across Ireland and found that 58% students miss meals to stay in college; 77.1% borrow money off friends and family; 39% go hungry; and 25% go or have gone to the Students’ Union, Saint Vincent de Paul or a food bank for food.
USI said a reintroduction of postgraduate grants would decrease the number of students having to go through desperate measures to fund the cost of college.
Which of the following things, if any, have you had to do to stay in college?
- Borrowing money off friends/ family – 77.1%
- Missing meals – 58.1%
- Going hungry – 38.7%
- Going without heat – 34.2%
- Missing vital college equipment such as a laptop, books, course utensils etc. – 53.9%
- Going to the Students’ Union/ Saint Vincent de Paul/ food bank for food – 25.4%
- Other – 9.2%
- Going without electricity – 8.5%
- Going without water – 4.2%
What is the main way you pay for college?
- Grants – 41.8%
- My parents – 27.2%
- My job – 16.0%
- Loans – 6.5%
- Life Savings – 4.4%
- Other – 4.1%