THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused of targeting low-income families with “stealth cuts” after announcing a €250 hike in college fees and a reduction in the income threshold for those eligible for maintenance grants.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) says students and low-income families have been “pushed off a cliff” by the measures, which will see the qualifying income threshold for the maintenance grant raised by 3 per cent.
Approximately 8 per cent of the total estimated 80,000 grant recipients will be affected by the measure, the USI says, with some students receiving a reduced grant and others not qualifying for a grant at all. It estimates that 6,500 students stand to lose up to €750 in maintenance assistance over the course of the academic year.
However, the union welcomed the maintenance of general grant rates at their current level, noting that the cost of living is increasing for students.
“While the Minister warned that this increase would come, it remains a bitter blow to families who are struggling to get their children through college. Labour’s betrayal of students on this front is disgraceful. By 2015, Ruairi Quinn will have increased fees by more than any Minister for Education since they were abolished by his Labour colleague, Niamh Bhreathnach,” said USI President John Logue.
The Budget has also hit people brave enough to return to education. By discontinuing the €300 Cost of Education Allowance, the Government has eliminated assistance that helped students to pay for books and administrative costs. With its removal, the Minister has removed crucial financial assistance for people seeking to learn new skills so that they might gain employment.
“We are calling on students and their parents to contact their local TD immediately and tell them what these cuts mean to them. USI will now escalate its campaign to reverse these harsh and regressive measures,” Logue said.
The Student Contribution Charge will increase by €250 next year, resulting in families paying €2,500 per child in the 2013/2014 academic year. The charge is due to increase by €250 every subsequent year until 2015, when it will be €3,000.
The Cost of Education Allowance, a €300 payment received by students returning to education at the beginning of each academic year, is to be discontinued. Payments from the Back to Education Allowance will now be equalised with that payable on the qualifying social protection payment.
Funding for the Student Assistance Fund – which provides emergency assistance to students who need money for books, travel, childcare and general subsistence - has not been cut.
Meanwhile, 2,500 new places have been created on the JobBridge scheme to assist in graduate employment.