Budget 2024: Support for college students ‘doesn’t work’ when universities are underfunded – IUA

The University of Galway's quadrangle

By Eva Osborne-Sherlock

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) has welcomed the measures that Budget 2024 has introduced for third-level students but warned that the support “doesn’t work” when Irish universities themselves are still underfunded.

Yesterday (10 October), Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD announced a number of measures for third-level students in Budget 2024.

These included:

  • Once off €1,000 reduction in university fees.
  • Families with an income of less than €100,000 will have college fees for undergraduate students halved to €1,500.
  • Increases to existing grant schemes, with maintenance grant rates set to be hiked by €615 with pro rate increases for students in the current academic year.
  • Maintenance grants for postgraduate students will be restored to be in line with undergraduate levels.
  • There will be an increase in the Post Graduate Tuition fee contribution by €1,000 for any grant recipients.

Chair of the IUA Council and President of the University of Limerick, Prof. Kerstin Mey, said: “We fully recognise the positive moves on reducing higher education costs for students but it doesn’t work if you make it more affordable for students to go into universities that are still underfunded by more than €200m per year.

“Our universities have clearly outlined to government what more we can do to support a whole range of national priorities if extra funding is provided.

“It seems bizarre that the €1.5 billion NTF surplus continues to grow while there are skills shortages across every part of the public and private sector.

“Our universities can play a key role in addressing those shortages if we are funded properly.”

Falling short of a promise

The IUA said it welcomes “a number of aspects” of Budget 2024, but that the €60 million increase in core funding for universities “falls well short of the government’s own promise”.

“In addition, the failure to unlock the growing €1.5 billion surplus in the National Training Fund (NTF) is a real missed opportunity,” the association said.

“Last year, the government itself confirmed that there is a €307m annual shortfall in core funding of universities but, between last year (€40m) and this year’s (€60m) Budget, barely one-third of that shortfall has been delivered.

“The one-off provisions for energy costs and for pension deficits are very welcome but, it is frustrating that the government’s promise to bridge the €307m gap in core funding has not been more fulsome, especially given the €1.5 billion NTF surplus that remains unspent.”

University of Galway

At the end of last month the President of the University of Galway, Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, said the college had joined with the Presidents and Governing Authority Chairs of the eight member universities of the IUA to send a letter to the government on funding for universities.

The letter was sent to An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, An Tánaiste Micheál Martin, and four government Ministers.

“This forms part of a coordinated advocacy campaign that we have been engaged in for many months, indeed years,” Ó hÓgartaigh said.

“Minister Harris declared in May 2022 that ‘the question of higher education funding is settled’. That is clearly not the case.

“The extent of the funding shortfall may have been settled, but the actions to address that shortfall are far from settled.

“There is no point in making it more affordable for students to go to college if they are entering underfunded, financially stressed universities.”

Budget 2024 and higher education

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science said the measures announced yesterday would reduce the cost of third-level education this year and “put money back into people’s pockets”.

Speaking on the measures, Harris said: “Last year’s student contribution measures made a significant difference to students’ lives and their wellbeing. That’s why this year we are repeating these measures.

“In recognition of the current cost of living struggles students face we are increasing student maintenance grants effective from January.

“Students are set to benefit by up to €342 this year and up to €615 in the full 2024/2025 academic year.”

Harris said the department is going beyond what was set out in the Programme for Government, as it has now “reduced the contribution fee for over several years”.

“In addition, and for the first time ever, fees for undergraduate part time studies will now be fully funded benefitting eligible one parent families, students with disabilities and carers on low incomes as part of a brand-new pilot programme,” he said.

Budget 2024 is an ‘overall disappointment’ – USI

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) said it viewed the Budget as an “overall disappointment” because the chance to use a small percentage of the Budget surplus to address the student accommodation crisis was not taken.

USI President, Chris Clifford, said: “There are positives for students in today’s Budget, measures that will go some way to helping students with high costs of going to college and university, and USI welcomes that.

“But students from across Ireland took to the streets of Dublin last week to demand Government uses the significant surplus to tackle the student accommodation crisis and soaring costs of going to college.

“And while there was tinkering at the edges, and some support given, this just didn’t happen. As far as USI is concerned, that was a deliberate choice made by this Government.”

Clifford said there were signs that the government had heard and seen USI protests, but that the support that was provided in the Budget showed that students were not heard to the full extent needed.

“They obviously know the student contribution is way too high, rent is a nightmare, and the supports available aren’t enough. But they haven’t done what is needed,” he said.

“So, we are going back to our members, we will talk to Student Union officers and students, and decide where we need to go from here. We will absolutely be keeping the pressure on.”

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