Sinn Féin research shows urgent intervention needed to address financial stress and anxiety facing third-level students - Rose Conway-Walsh TD
‘Telling the Real Story’, a research project carried out by Sinn Féin this month, captures the challenges experienced by third-level students and their families.
The responses of 1,022 students and many parents from across the state demonstrate the need for urgent government intervention to address the financial stress and anxiety facing students and their families.
Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science Rose Conway-Walsh, who conducted the research, said:
“The information gathered is concerning and demonstrates the need for urgent government intervention to address the financial stress and anxiety that over 77% of students surveyed and their families are experiencing.
“Over 80% of respondents are concerned that they won’t have enough money to go to or remain at college. They told us story after story of how the SUSI Grant System either excluded them or was not sufficient to cover the costs of their third-level education.
“One student said: 'This is no country for the children of hard-working parents. I worry about my parents' health. They work long hours, never take care of themselves and always put us first yet after all that, their son will most likely not be able to afford to attend third-level education.'
“This student, like many others, is excluded because SUSI is assessed on gross income rather than net income.
"The income tax, USC, PRSI as well as the mortgage/rent payments, the accommodation costs paid in the previous year are all lumped in as if these households have this money available to meet the highest fees in the EU as well as rent, food, travel, books, phone, and other costs.
“Government must make this a fairer system by calculating on net income, and introducing flexibility to enable SUSI to respond to the real-time financial situations of households.
"This is more important than ever because over 50% of students tell us they have not been able to get work this summer. They were counting on this work to pay for college.
“Of all mature students refused a SUSI grant, the reason given for over 24% was because they were assessed on their parents' income. Another 23% did not apply because they knew their parent’s income was over the threshold.
"One student tells her story: 'I am a lone parent in my early 30s with a ten-year-old daughter. Last year I had to move back in with my parents because I could not afford the rent I was paying. I want to do a course at Sligo IT, but have been refused SUSI based on my parents income. Without SUSI, I cannot afford to go.'
“The system must be changed so that mature students have income assessed independently from their parents.
“Uncertainty and affordability of accommodation featured heavily. One parent outlined: 'My daughter is going to Mary I and my concern is that colleges need to let us know what their plan is for after Christmas. We are faced with accommodation charges of €6,000 for three weeks before Christmas If after Christmas is the same i.e. one week per month then I will be paying €1,000 per week for only six weeks' accommodation.”
“The exclusion of part-time students and those doing online courses from SUSI was big concern for parents of with teenagers with disabilities. A mother from Mayo wrote: 'I have four college age children, two in attendance and two highly intelligent autistic sons who cannot get SUSI to do online courses. They should have a right to pursue their education like the other two.'
"Building flexibility into the system to enable people of all abilities to follow the pathways most suited to them is imperative.
“Almost 65% of students told us the SUSI grant is not adequate to meet costs associated with college. SUSI has not been increased sine 2012. Even a 10% increase as called for by the USI could make all the difference. This would require an investment of just over €16 million.
“Uncertainty, accommodation affordability, loss of summer jobs, high fees, lack of career guidance and decades of chronic underfunding for Higher Level institutions have all collided to produce a perfect storm for third level education.
"Government must listen and introduce immediate measures to stop students dropping out of their courses or joining the unemployment queues.”