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Opinion: Many students will be locked out of third-level if costs and supports don't start to balance

The cost of accommodation, grant reductions and rising fees are causing real challenges to young people.

Callaghan Commons

Callaghan Commons is the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Dublin City University Students’ Union.

Here, he writes about how Budget 2020 should focus on students and access to education.

WE LIKE TO think of Ireland as a fair and just society where everyone has equal opportunities. However, numerous barriers are currently in place that prevent young people from accessing third-level education. Budget 2020 could change this, but will it? 

Rents have skyrocketed

One of the main issues facing students and young people in Ireland at the moment is accommodation. In a recent study, Dublin was named one of the most expensive cities in the eurozone due to high rents. However, this is far from just an issue faced by students living in the capital, as rents have skyrocketed in other areas of the country such as Cork and Galway.

While the Government has introduced some measures to prevent escalating rents, such as a rent cap of 4%, this has done little to protect students. The cost of purpose-built student accommodation has risen by extortionate percentages in the past year alone. DCU students saw a 27% increase in rent in the Shanowen student accommodation complex in the 2018/2019 academic year. Similarly, Cuirt na Coiribe student accommodation in Galway increased their rent by 18%.  

Due to these high rents, students have been forced to couch-surf, sleep in their cars or in some cases drop out of college altogether. Many students are also commuting long distances across the country to attend college everyday. 

It’s about time that the Government took action on the current accommodation crisis and invested in building affordable accommodation – and it needs to happen now.

Second-highest college fees in EU

One of the biggest expenses for young people is college fees, which have increased by 275% since 2008 to €3,000. Ireland currently has the second highest fees in the EU and after Brexit, it will be the highest. But it’s unlikely the Government will introduce any measures to reduce this.

In 2016, the Cassells report offered three options for the funding of Irish higher education institutes. The first is the removal of the student contribution fee and introducing a publicly-funded model. The second option is leaving the current student contribution charge in place and increasing state funding of universities and other third-level institutions. The third option is the introduction of an income-contingent loan system – a similar model in Australia has left students in crippling debt.

However, despite the options available, it’s unlikely that any measures will be introduced in Budget 2020 to lower university fees. What we need to see from the Government in this budget is an investment in third-level education, especially at a time when Ireland’s universities are falling in the global rankings.

Little-to-no support

According to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), the number of students in receipt of the SUSI grant has fallen from a height of over 80,000 in 2015 to 76,000 in 2018. However, the number of students in the Republic of Ireland has hit a high of 235,644 in 2017.

More worryingly, the postgraduate maintenance grant was effectively abolished in the Budget in 2012, leaving postgraduate students facing high-fee barriers and little-to-no support for living costs. This is preventing students across the country from engaging in further studies after their undergraduate degree.

But is it likely that access to education will be a priority for Budget 2020? With Brexit on the horizon, it’s clear that the Government’s priority will again be shifted away from education and students will be left battling high education and accommodation costs. As we can see with students like Greta Thunberg who is inspiring her generation to stand up for climate change, students from across Ireland will be taking to the streets later this year for the ‘Break The Barriers’ protest demanding a better future and accessible education in Ireland. 

Young people in Ireland want to be educated and they want to be able to lead their country. Budget 2020 is the place to start, because we as students and as future leaders won’t stop until Ireland is a fair and just society where everyone has equal opportunities to education.

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Callaghan Commons

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