After the start of an academic year which has been dogged with stories about students sleeping on couches, living in hostels and a SU foodbank running out, Budget 2022 has confirmed the Union of Students’ in Ireland’s view that this Government has no interest in addressing the hardship that many students face.
With no deduction made to the Student Contribution Charge and no significant announcement on student accommodation or a plan to publicly fund third-level education, the Government has told students that they are not interested in making the changes needed to open access to higher education.
Even the changes to the SUSI Student Maintenance Grant, which are welcome, are the least that is needed considering there has been no change to the grant since it was slashed in 2011.
Previously, the Student Maintenance Grant was linked to the cost of living and without investment in over a decade, it has become inadequate and not fit-for-purpose.
USI President, Clare Austick said: “USI has highlighted time and time again that students need to see the end of the €3,000 Student Contribution Charge and a plan made to implement a publicly-funded system of third-level education. In our Pre-Budget Submission, USI outlined that we wanted to see a three-year plan for the abolishing of fees, with a €1,000 reduction made this year and the same again in the next two budgets.
“USI has also been demanding action on student accommodation, but with no action taken in this area by Government in recent years, the crisis is now the worst we have seen. Students cannot get accommodation, and many have started this semester making long commutes, sleeping on couches, and staying in hostels or hotels not knowing if they will be able to continue with their courses. And yet again places in third-level institutions have been increased by 3,300 without any action on student accommodation, so we have no idea where these students will live; they will most likely be added to the waiting lists for student accommodation.
“We are glad there has been some increase to the SUSI maintenance Grant, as there is a long way to go to get us back to the grant being in line with the cost of living. It was cut in 2011 and this is the first time it has increased since then.”
While disappointed with the lack of ambition and change for students in Budget 2022, some small changes in the Budget have been welcomed by USI.
Clare said: “The €5 million funding for student mental health and wellbeing services is vital to start to address the mental health difficulties faced by students that were already an issue before COVID and have only worsened as a result of the pandemic. We also welcome the announcement of €31 million to provide free contraception for women between the ages of 17 and 25. However, there needs to be clarity that this health package will be accessible and will be available to trans and non-binary people.”
You can read the USI Pre-Budget Submission here.