Hundreds of third-level students who in many cases do not qualify for grants are being funded by charities to pay for college fees and other expenses.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said it spent about €2 million last year to support 600 students, many of whom fall outside the threshold for State grants.
SVP national president Rose McGowan said student recipients must demonstrate they have applied for all available State funding or other grants.
“Some of these students qualify for the Susi [Student Universal Support Ireland] State grant and some are just above the threshold. But for all of them, they simply cannot afford to access their courses,” she said. “SVP members know first-hand that accessibility and affordability are real barriers to a third-level education. More and more desperate students come to us each year, but we can only help so many.”
[ Student accommodation crisis: ‘Instead of being a junk press, a single mattress was put in… I was living there’ ]
The charity spent about €4 million last year supporting families with education costs at all levels, with half of this spent on helping people access third-level education and training courses.
Some students’ unions also report a surge in numbers seeking emergency assistance and access to welfare support as rent and living costs rise.
South East Technological University’s (SETU) students’ union said it was dealing with record numbers of requests for emergency support.
“We have more students than ever coming in here every day of the week – I would say we have about 50 requests a week, in person or on email, asking for help,” said Patrick Curtin, president of SETU’s students’ union in Waterford.
“We have an emergency welfare fund, but it is limited to helping students get by for a few days, to pay for food or transport... rent is up, the cost of food and transport is up and many students don’t have the funds.”
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said the Government is responding to the cost of living by reducing registration fees and increasing the maintenance grant.
Last week, he announced an additional €4 million to assist students with the cost of living to be distributed through the Student Assistance Fund, bringing the total allocation for the fund in the current academic year to more than €20 million. This fund assists students with paying for books and class materials, rent, childcare and transport, among other things.
“The Student Assistance Fund is an invaluable resource for third-level students who are finding it difficult to make ends meet,” he said. “The fund is there to assist with additional costs they may face over the coming months. It is completely confidential and accessible through the access offices in publicly funded higher education colleges.”
He said Budget 2023 made “real and meaningful” changes for students by reducing the registration fee by €1,000 and increasing the maintenance grant, along with the renters’ credit and the extension of free public transport for students.
However, Ms McGowan said as expenses such as rent continued to rise, so does the level of need.
Recipients in recent months include students whose grants did not cover their full costs, as well as people who needed to pay for equipment and exam fees for training courses.
Another example was a lone parent undertaking a part-time degree course that allowed them to balance their family commitments and seek out new employment opportunities. There is no Susi grant for this type of course, according to SVP.
Applications for support from the SVP education and training bursary can be made to its regional offices, which are forwarded to a local conference for consideration and assessment.