USI pre-budget document demands student fees cut

In a call to alleviate pressure on third level students, a proposal for a €500 cut in the student contribution fee was made by the Union of Students In Ireland in their pre-budget submission, launched earlier this month.

The submission, published on September 6th, is calling on the Government to reduce the student contribution fee, amounting to a total of €34m per €500 reduction.

The USI are also calling for a €140m investment in higher education, the reinstatement of postgraduate grants and a €5m investment in mental health counselling.

The postgraduate maintenance grant was abolished in 2012 and replaced by a postgraduate contribution fee of between €2,000 and €6,270 depending on income. The reinstatement of the postgraduate grants will cost around €53 million.

Research by the USI suggests that 58% of students use “extreme budgeting tactics” including skipping meals in order to meet the high costs of third-level education.

Further research shows that financial issues are a significant trigger for students when dropping out of college.

“Hundreds of thousands of students and their families” are extremely concerned about the rising costs of education, according to USI President Annie Hoey.

“Abolishing the post-graduate grants has created a two-tier system where students from lower socio-economic backgrounds cannot progress past an undergraduate level,” Hoey said.

“Reinstating the post-grad grants will keep things on a level playing field.”

The USI submission comes as the latest university rankings revealed that all Irish universities except NUI Galway have slipped down the list. The new rankings have led to fresh calls for increased funding for third-level institutions.

The proposal for €5m to be ring-fenced for mental health counselling follows controversy over the mental health budget earlier this year.

It was revealed that €12m originally earmarked for mental health services was to be transferred to other health spending, in April 2016.

While research revealed that 75% of all mental disorders first emerge between the ages of 15 and 25, the funding for mental health services in universities has never been a priority.

“The provision of counselling services to meet the growing numbers and diverse needs of students has not kept pace.

“Currently waiting lists can be up to six weeks which raises serious concern if a student is in distress,” Hoey said.

Budget 2017 will be announced on October 11th.

Lydia McKay

Image credit: USI

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