Conway-Walsh raises concerns about the Financial Stress on Students and their Families
Sinn Féin Mayo Senator Rose Conway-Walsh has said that obstacles placed in the way of students accessing third level education amount to exclusion for many families and has called on budget decisions to make access to grants and supports easier and less rigid.
Speaking after meeting with representatives of the Students’ Union of Ireland presented a report ‘The Crisis is Unending’, Senator Conway-Walsh pointed to ongoing restrictions and difficulties around accessing supports, saying:
“There are increasing numbers of students, rising to 235,644 in 2017/2018. Yet, the student grant system is not fit to meet the needs of a growing student population and their families. Vast numbers of families are being told that they are ineligible for any form of grant or support. Last year, the number receiving grants dropped by 4,022.
“However, the problems and challenges facing families have not reduced. Many families see no other option other than going further into debt in order to send children to third level. There are many families who are just getting by and are unable to access grants and are not allowed to write off expenditure already spent on other children for rent or on previous year’s education expenses. The system simply does not seem to recognise them or their position.
“The numbers of students with mental health difficulties has risen at a rate of 127% since 2014. I have no doubt that financial stress is a contributory factor.
“With increasing access to third level, we should be ensuring that students from backgrounds that find it difficult to support several children in full time education are given fair play. We cannot ignore the fact that accommodation costs have escalated in recent years without corresponding grant support.
“I am also concerned that students who take on a summer or part-time job are discouraged from doing so because they will be penalised in the grant system. This is wrong. We should be encouraging young people to build up their employment experience and solid work ethic in their formative years.
“The income thresholds are simply too low and the allowable expenditure is too restrictive. My concern is that equality of opportunity to access education continues to be eroded. I have asked the minister to review the current situation to elevate the financial stress on students and their families.”