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Statement by USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick

“In Budget 2021, Government has ignored the systemic barriers preventing students from accessing higher education which will only be addressed through continuous financial support and not through one-off funding packages.

USI called for an urgent reduction in the Student Contribution Charge and we are extremely disappointed the charge has not been reduced. This would have been a commitment from this Government to recognise and address the underlying problem – that students face the highest fees in the EU, which are a financial barrier to accessing education. They failed to recognise or act on that. The €250 payment for each student is welcomed and goes some way to acknowledging the impact that COVID-19 has had on the financial situation of students and their families but it does not recognise the longer term financial pressures that students face. It is vital this payment is made quickly as students are struggling to make ends meet as we speak.

The full review of SUSI which was announced today is also welcome. There must be student involvement in this process, which needs to be conducted as quickly as possible and the recommendations need to be implemented as soon as possible. This cannot be another exercise of kicking the can down the road. A full overhaul of the student financial support system in needed, urgently. We will be keen to be involved in this review.

The increase in the household earnings threshold for postgraduate students to €54,000 is a much needed and very welcome change.  We also welcome the slight increase to the SUSI payment for postgraduate students. However, vital issues around precarious conditions and stipend rates have been neglected in this budget. Supports for postgraduates and early career researchers were a commitment in the programme for Government and must be a priority for this Government.

We are calling on Government to provide further clarification to the 30,000 students in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment in relation to their eligibility to receive this necessary support while engaging in education. These students lost their jobs through no fault of their own yet still must meet the excessive costs of third level education and so continuing to have access to the PUP is essential.

We welcome the extension of the PATH 2 programme to an extra 200 students. The purpose of this funding is to encourage participation by students from sections of society that are significantly under-represented in higher education and so the provision of additional funding through the 1916 Bursary is an important move which will broaden access.

We welcome that the extra third-level spaces that were provided this year will be kept into the future. USI has been calling for extra spaces at third- level to reduce the pressures on the system for some time. It will also be important that additional core funding for student supports are also available to match this increase.

We are disappointed again though that the issue of sustainable core-funding for third-level has not been addressed. So, we are again calling for a plan to fully publicly-fund higher education to be prepared immediately. The Cassells Report released in 2016 called for immediate sustainable core funding however, this Government, like those before it has failed to commit to a model which views and funds education as a public good.”

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