The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) today secured €3m to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) over three years to support participation in higher education on a part-time basis, and €7.5m over three years to institutions to increase access to higher education from communities with the lowest levels of higher education participation. This comes with the announcement by the Department for Education and Skills today to invest €16.5m in supports for key target groups in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.

Welcoming the further €3m to the SAF, USI President Michael Kerrigan said, “Today, USI’s call and lobbying efforts have been heard by the Department for Education and Skill ahead of Budget 2018. USI campaigned for the additional allocation of €1m in the Budget 2016, but it was clear that this figure did not meet the needs required of SAF in our Higher Education Institutes. While this allocation is welcome, it must be noted that the SAF requires a total of €12million to meet the increased demand being placed on the fund by more applications each year.”

“We also called on the Government to commit to part-time and further education students receiving the same supports that would be available to full-time students in hardship”, said Mr Kerrigan. “The  €7.5m funding intended to facilitate the attraction and retention of an additional 2,000 new undergraduate students in part-time learning, and in further education, will ensure that these students are supported to complete their programme of study.”

Mr Kerrigan went on to say, “USI is urging the Government to invest in other key supports like third-level mental health counselling, and to ring-fence €3m for student counselling and supports per annum. Mental health support is another key factor in retention for third-level, as 27% of students who used counselling services indicated counselling was a factor in their retention.”

The union continues to campaign on other Budget 2018 issues like the funding of higher education.  USI are calling on the Government to rule out any possible introduction of an income contingent loan scheme, and to  reduce the Student Contribution Charge by a minimum of €250 with the aim of investing €1.26bn into higher education over the next decade in Budget 2018.

USI’s Budget 2018 submission can be found here: http://usi.ie/usi-budget-2018/

The SAF provides an alternative source of funding for higher education students in addition to the student grant (SUSI) and often assists students who may not qualify under the SUSI structure by marginal amounts. The SAF is the primary student hardship fund accessible for students in Universities and Institutes of Technology across the country.

A number of support funds, including the Fund for Student with Disabilities, the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) and the Maintenance Grant are only available for students studying on a full-time basis in recognised Higher Education Institution. Part-time students are currently not able to avail of the same supports (despite the National Access strategy recommendations). The same restrictions apply to students in further education, of which there were 127,165 students enrolled in 2016

Figures from Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) 2014-15 report outlines over 50% of students’ studies were negatively impacted by mental health difficulties. This report also shows 27% of students who used counselling services indicated counselling was a factor in their retention, and 23% indicated counselling helped with their academic performance.  See http://usi.ie/usi-budget-2018/counselling-services/ for more information.