AVERIL DISCUSSES EXTRA FUNDING FOR THE STUDENT ASSISTANCE FUND (19-02-15)

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I tabled a Seanad debate today to ask the Minister for Education to increase the budget for the Student Assistance Fund in light of the fact that many colleges had already used their entire allocation for the 2014-2015 academic year by the end of December. The SAF is used by the colleges to assist students at risk of dropping out of college due to financial hardship.

 

Senator Averil Power: I welcome the Minister to the House. I have tabled this debate to highlight the need for the Department to provide extra funding for the student assistance fund in light of the fact many colleges have already exhausted their entire allocation for the 2014-15 academic year. As the Minister is aware, the purpose of the student assistance fund is to give the colleges discretionary funding to help students facing severe financial hardship. It assists students who miss out on a maintenance grant, perhaps because their parents are barely over the threshold, but are struggling financially and cannot afford their college fees, or, for example, those students who are under 23 and are assessed on their parents’ income but have very good reasons why they cannot live at home, such as being estranged from their parents due to a violent situation at home. This fund gives the colleges discretion to assist such students. It also helps those who face unexpected hardship during the year that puts their academic progress at risk. For many students, as I know from my time as a student union officer in Trinity College, the assistance they get from this fund is the only thing that saves them from having to drop out of college. However, while it is a vital scheme, funding has been cut significantly in recent years. It was €8 million in 2013 and €6.6 million in the current academic year of 2014-15, which is totally insufficient, particularly given that students are now under more financial pressure than in the past. To take the issue of rent, which is a significant cost for those who are studying away from home, rents have risen by over 10% nationally and by 17% in Dublin in the past 12 months alone, so more and more students are struggling financially.

 

The Union of Students in Ireland commissioned a survey which found that many colleges had already exhausted their entire allocation from the student assistance fund by the end of December – so, just a few months into the college year, the entire allocation was gone. This was the case in NUI Maynooth, Trinity College, UCC, Athlone IT, IT Tallaght, IT Tralee, Letterkenny IT and the Mater Dei Institute. There were another seven third level institutions that had already used 80% or more of their allocation by the end of December.

 

Essentially, what this means is that students with serious financial difficulties will be denied the support they need. As I said, some will end up dropping out of college and missing out on a third level education, in many cases because they do not have just a few hundred euro to pay their rent or meet other costs.The overall long-term cost, not only to the individual but also to the State, of someone missing out on a third level education is obviously many multiples of that. It is such a false economy and it is incredibly unfair that people are missing out on an education as a result of a lack of what is a relatively small amount of money. I have raised this matter in order to ask the Minister if she will provide, as was the case in previous years, both a top-up for the student assistance fund for the 2014-15 academic year and a greater overall allocation for the fund for the 2015-16 academic year.

 

 

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