Extending supports to part-time and online students and increasing the level of awards are among the suggestions made by the Union of Students in Ireland in its wide-ranging submission to the Government’s review of the Student Grant Scheme (SUSI).
The level of financial support given to students through SUSI was drastically cut in 2011 and has not been reinstated, despite soaring costs of living for students, particularly accommodation costs.
Students have suffered from the housing crisis as developers have focused on building luxury accommodation that students cannot afford.
USI is also calling for the eligibility for the higher non-adjacent rate of the grant to be reduced from 45km to its pre 2011 distance of 24km, reflecting the additional financial costs incurred by students who live a distance from their college. This is particularly crucial for those living in rural areas, which are often poorly served by public transport.
USI also believes qualifying students should have access to required financial supports regardless of their institution or course-type, once they are undertaking a course available through the CAO.
The USI submission also highlights the unfairness of the reality that those under 23-years-old are currently automatically assessed as dependant, regardless of their actual living situation, unless they can prove estrangement from their family.
Commenting on USI’s submission to the SUSI review, USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick said: “Equity of access to higher education is a core component of the work of the USI. As it stands SUSI is not fit-for-purpose and excludes many students and potential students who need financial support. We see people not being able to undertake study and many students living with financial hardship and poverty because of the lack of access to supports or supports not being at the level needed.
“USI campaigned for a long time for a full review of SUSI, and so we welcome that it is now happening. In our submission, we have outlined the need for change in numerous areas to bring these important supports up to date and to the level required in order to open access to third-level education to as many people as possible for the benefit of society, our citizens and the economy.”
The situation facing the many students who have also found themselves in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment because of income lost during the COVID-19 pandemic is also highlighted in the submission.
It is USI’s understanding that this payment is currently being treated as reckonable income. USI believes that this payment should be treated like other social protection payments and disregarded in calculating reckonable income.
Other COVID-19 related payments students may have received such as the €250 one-off payment, or the student nurses and midwives COVID-19 pandemic grant are not being treated as reckonable income, the same rule should apply in this instance.
USI has also outlined how it believes no one should be financially disadvantaged for returning to education and so the current rules about repeat periods of study should also be removed.