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Dublin: 14 °C Saturday 26 July, 2014

Column: Student fees mean my parents can’t afford to send us to college

Caught between fees and grants, a growing number of would-be students face missing out altogether. Welcome to the world of the ‘inbetweeners’, writes Patrick Kelleher.

Patrick Kelleher

IRELAND IS IN a bad state of affairs, let’s not deny that. Corrupt politicians and bankers have run us into the ground, and we’re struggling to get back up off our knees, dust ourselves off and move on.

It’s for that reason that I understand why the governments of Ireland have increased third level fees. All areas must take hits, unfortunately, if we are to recover financially. But there are more problems than there are solutions in taking money from the education sector.

What the current and the previous governments have failed to realise is that education is the way forward. Without education, people can’t prosper. They can’t get jobs, and if they can’t get jobs, that means they can’t get money, and if they can’t get money they can’t go to college, and if they can’t go to college it’s even more difficult to get a job. If they can’t get a job or go to college then they find themselves condemned to what appears to be a never-ending dole queue.

In the most recent budget, the cost of third level education was yet again raised. Yes, it was a small increase in comparison to previous years, but still, it was an increase. It was the difference between having to drop out of college and staying for many students. For many more it was the difference between going to college and joining the dole queue.

This has of course been a trend in Ireland for a long time. When my own parents were my age, there was no question of them going to university, as they weren’t from privileged backgrounds. It was straight out of school and into a job.

Elitism

The system we have in Ireland today has made a feeble attempt at destroying the elitism in third level education. The grant system caters for those who can’t afford a third level education, meaning that even if a person’s parents are unemployed, they have the same opportunities as everybody else. But this system seems to completely bypass a certain amount of the population. Yes, it means that those from wealthy backgrounds and those from underprivileged backgrounds get an education, but what happens to those in-between?

I myself am one of the ‘inbetweeners’. I come from a family with two working parents. My mother is working three jobs, yet despite their best efforts, there is no way they will be able to find €5,000 to send my sister and I to college this coming year. We would love to have had summer jobs, and earned the money ourselves, but there are no jobs out there. Believe me, we tried.

According to this grant system, my parents should have enough money to send us to college. They base this on my parent’s gross income – that is their income before tax. Money that was taken from them by the state is being counted in their earnings. The grant system does not take into account various expenses a family might have, such as a mortgage, travel costs, distance to work; the list goes on and on.

Going by this, the grant system would favour a family who have their mortgage paid off and walk to work every day – but receive lower wages – over a family with a mortgage and who have to travel two hours to work every day in two separate cars, but get paid slightly over the threshold. The logic is simply astounding.

Tough luck

As a result of this system, we have a huge problem in Ireland. There are young people out there – and it’s not just me – who can’t afford to be educated, simply because their parents earn slightly too much money to be considered for a grant, and they themselves can’t find work.

But why don’t these students get loans from banks, I hear you ask? Well, there’s a simple answer to that. Irish banks don’t do student loans like other countries do. They demand that the student begin making repayments straight away – not an easy feat when you have rent to pay and textbooks to buy. In Britain, students are given loans that they pay back once they are earning a certain amount of money. In Ireland, students who aren’t entitled to the grant must ask their parents to take out a loan for them. And, if their parents can’t afford the repayments, well, that’s just tough luck. The dole queue it is.

The problem with third level education is not going away, and soon, the problems will increase. We are quickly churning out a generation of uneducated teenagers, who are unable to find work without skills, and who can’t afford an education. With an upcoming budget, I can’t help but worry, is this problem about to get worse? Are college fees going to rise yet again, and push even more students out of the education system? We, as the youth of Ireland have dreams. We have ambitions. It’s time the Government realised that Ireland will never get off its knees as long as educating the next generation of workers is not a priority.

I urge the Government to carefully consider raising third level fees. In these harsh times, we need to educate the next generation of workers so that they are well equipped for the future, and not just focus on the short term cost-cutting that is currently in place. Let’s work towards the future, and not just the present.

Patrick Kelleher is originally from Roscommon and took his Leaving Cert this year. He writes at leavingcertdiaries.wordpress.com and sirpatrickofireland.wordpress.com.

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