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File photo of Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris. Julien Behal/

Simon Harris plans to 'overhaul' student grant system

The minister is bringing proposals to the Cabinet today.

LAST UPDATE | 3 May 2022

MINISTER FOR FURTHER and Higher Education Simon Harris is set to bring proposals to Cabinet on the level of investment needed for third level education and how the sector should be funded.

It is understood the proposals follow an economic evaluation through the offices of the European Commission.

If approved, the proposals will see a significant increase in the amount of money invested by Government in each student’s education in the years ahead.

It is expected that the Minister will indicate to Government how he wants to reduce the cost of education for students and families and how he intends to go about this in forthcoming budgets. It is thought that this will include a policy on the contribution fee.

He also intends to overhaul the student grant system, Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi), to “make it easier to access and to make sure part-time students can access supports”.

Student maintenance grants increased by €200 in Budget 2022, while the income threshold for students to qualify for grants also increased by €1,000.

The distance for the higher non-adjacent student grant was also reduced from 45km to 30km.

Harris will also outline how he wants to reform the third level education sector to ensure that it is inclusive, flexible and that there are better staff-to-student ratios in colleges.

According to the latest indicators from the OECD, the ratio of students to teaching staff at third level in Ireland has increased from one lecturer for every 20 students to one for every 23 students.

The same data shows that the European average is one lecturer for every 15 students.

If approved by Cabinet, the policy direction will be published tomorrow.

Limit on student earnings

Independent TD for Laois-Offaly Carol Nolan has criticised Harris for not changing the €4,500 limit on student earnings.

The current requirements for students seeking access to Susi grants is that the applicant can earn up to €4,500 in holiday earnings while in education, without any effect on grant eligibility.

However, if the applicant earns more than €4,500 during holiday periods, the balance is taken into account.

Nolan, who is a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Education, noted that in her submission to the Steering Group Review on Susi last March she “specifically highlighted the need to increase the amount of earnings that a student could accumulate without any adverse impact on grant eligibility”.

“Unfortunately Minister Harris has now confirmed to me that student grant applications for the 2022/2023 academic year will continue to be assessed on income earned in 2021 and that includes no changes being made to the existing earnings limit of €4,500.

“This will be profoundly disappointing to many students who are anxious to earn as much as possible from their own work without being effectively penalised for that with respect to grant eligibility.”

Nolan welcomed the fact Harris “has successfully brought forward a €200 increase to the student maintenance grant, as well as the €1000 increase to the income threshold for students hoping to qualify for grants”.

However, she said the decision “to maintain the status quo regarding student earnings is a lost opportunity”.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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