The €3,000 upfront “student contribution fee” is now the most expensive in the EU, but was cut by €1,000 for the 2022/23 academic year as a “once-off” measure – and there’s a promise of a (lower) permanent reduction in the background too.
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris also announced an extra payment just before Christmas for all student maintenance grant recipients, an increase of €1,000 in support for (some) postgraduate students, an €8 million investment in the country’s Student Assistance Fund for the 2022/23 academic year and additional once-off funding for universities specifically to assist with rising energy costs.
Universities will be less pleased. A policy paper on the future funding of higher education published in May argued that the sector was underfunded and needed more than €300 million in additional core funding – but the Irish Universities Association yesterday said that only €40 million is being made available to address the gap.
For those wondering about the politics here – Harris is no left wing zealot. Ireland’s politics has tended to be less “left v right” than those in the UK may be familiar with, but even so Fine Gael is generally regarded as a centre-right party that positions itself as being concerned with “fiscal rectitude”.
Nevertheless the language of the package’s launch was aimed at students and their families in a way that I’d forgotten was possible:
We know students are not immune from the cost of living challenges. That’s why we have fought hard to bring them some tangible and immediate relief as part of Budget 2023. We are putting money back into the pockets of students and their families straight away by reducing the student contribution fee by €1,000 for this academic year, apprentices subject to the student contribution will also see this reduced by a third.
If anything, it’s accommodation that remains the unsolvable for the Fianna Fáil / Fine Gael coalition. Just this seek the National University of Ireland in Galway said that 300 students have deferred their places this year, blaming the accommodation crisis, while Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has seen a 20 per cent increase in deferral requests for similar reasons.
The Union of Students in Ireland’s vice president for academic affairs, Clodagh McGivern, argues that the position is both ridiculous and unfair:
We’ve seen an additional 1,056 university places given out this year. They keep adding college spaces but they’re not building accommodation to actually meet the demand that is being created. Short-term measures such as online learning need to be taken to make sure students don’t have to forgo their education.”