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A €500 reduction must be made to the Student Contribution Charge immediately to ease some of the financial pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Union of Students in Ireland.

Government must also support students who will be expected to work remotely for much of the new academic year by creating and investing in a new scheme that provides access to devices and better WiFi.

The USI is calling for the urgent reduction in the Student Contribution Charge in light of the economic difficulties facing students who lost have jobs, had summer work hours reduced and were placed on a lower Pandemic Unemployment Payment because they were only working part-time during the academic year.

The €3000 charge is the most expensive fee in the European Union to access an undergraduate course.

The union which represents students in colleges and universities across the island of Ireland will continue to campaign for the abolishment of the Student Contribution Charge and the introduction of publicly funded third-level education.

However, USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick explained that this €500 reduction is needed now to prevent many students not being able to go back to college or starting the new year facing financial hardship.

Lorna said: “We have been calling for this reduction for a number of years now, but we feel that it is more urgent now than ever. We feel it cannot wait and must be done ahead of the new academic year, but if not, then in Budget 2021 by the absolute latest. It is not right that students have to struggle to pay the same fees when there is such uncertainty about their future.

“USI conducted research earlier this year to understand how COVID-19 was impacting students and one of the key recommendations from this research was that provisions be put in place for students who do not have access to devices or have poor WiFi. There also must be extra financial supports made available for for students through SUSI, the Student Assistance Fund and other funds that support access.

“The majority of students who would have worked full-time over the summer to support themselves through college now are in receipt of the reduced Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €203 per week. Many students entering third level straight from secondary school who are or were under 18 were not eligible to receive PUP.

“At a time of economic recession, investment in higher education can act as a great tool to stimulate economic growth with every €1 of investment adding up to €4 to the economy.”

In launching its calls for the €500 reduction to the Student Contribution Charge and the introduction of a devices and WiFi scheme, the USI has also again outlined several matters it says need to be addressed immediately to stop students living in poverty.

This includes the stipend for postgraduate students being brought up to at least a Living Wage – stipends are currently below the minimum wage.

The USI is also again calling for a plan to fully publicly fund higher education to be prepared in light of the funding gaps left by the over-reliance on private income such as international student fees and student accommodation. International students bring much more than funding to our education system and should never be treated as mere funding sources.

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