THE MINISTER FOR Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, is allocating an extra €3 million to the Student Assistance Fund to help students in financial difficulty.
The fund is available to third level students who are experiencing severe financial hardship or who may have to drop out of college for financial reasons.
With the extra money, the fund is expected to assist in the region of 16,000 students this academic year. From 2008 – 2009, 7,917 students were supported by an allocation of 5m. In 2009 – 2010, 7,681 were supported with the same amount while in 2010 – 2011 8,301 were supported with €5m.
From 2011 – 2012, approximately 13,000 students were supported with a fund of €9m. Although €8m was initially allocated this year, an extra €3m brings that to €11m.
Higher Education institutions are reporting a significant increase in demand for this fund, said the department. This year, universities, Institutes of Technology and other third level institutes are reporting an average increase in applications to the fund of 67 per cent to date.
Minister Ruairí Quinn commented:
I am acutely aware of the severe financial difficulties facing many families and students this academic year. In light of this and the delays to the processing of some student grants, the Department of Education & Skills requested the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to examine if there was an increased demand from students to access the Student Assistance Fund.
He said that they found the resources within their budget “given the substantial increase reported by third level institutions”, which he said “will help thousands more students stay in college or avoid hardship”.
The HEA asked 32 institutions to complete a short survey on the current position on the administration of the Student Assistance Fund, which showed that overall, demand for it increased substantially on last year. A significant proportion of the total fund has already been committed at this stage in the academic year.
Minister Quinn concluded:
I recognise that the problems with SUSI, the new grant awarding body, is one of the factors driving students to seek help, but there are others such as the withdrawal of other sources of funding like those from societies or partnerships and the increased numbers of students in poverty, and I hope the increased money now available to the Fund will go some way to alleviating student hardship.