A cut of up to €1,000 in the student contribution charge is among a range of options on the table ahead of this month’s budget as the Government seeks to reduce the cost of going to college.
The options are contained in a research paper prepared for the Government which also include increasing student grants by up to 25 per cent and widening eligibility to financial support for thousands of additional students.
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Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris stressed that the measures represent options available to the Government and “do not pre-empt the budgetary process”.
It is understood that officials are keen to ensure that whatever measures get the green light in the budget on September 27th will be backdated to the start of the current academic year.
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The options come as students’ unions and Opposition parties clamour for more to be done to ease the cost of college due to soaring rents, the rising cost of living and the volume of students forced to commute long distances to college.
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At present the €3,000 student contribution charge, which was hiked during the last economic downturn, is estimated to be the highest public third-level charge in the European Union.
The options paper estimates that reducing the contribution charge by €250-€1,000 would cost the State €21 million-€85 million. However, the full exchequer cost would be almost twice this amount if universities are compensated for the lack of student income.
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Such a measure would benefit about 80,000-85,000 students and their families who pay the full student contribution charge.
About 60,000 students in receipt of Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) grants are eligible for free fees and have all or part of the charge paid for by the State.
The options paper shows that more targeted and less expensive measures include raising income limits for eligibility to grants by anywhere up to 10 per cent. Such a move would benefit an additional 15,000 students at a cost of about €12.5 million.
Another option involves reducing the qualifying distance from college to avail of increased grant-aided support from 30km to 24km, or increasing maintenance grant rates by anywhere up to 25 per cent.
These types of measures would benefit tens of thousands of students who are in receipt of grants.
The full range of options is contained in a paper, Funding the Future, an annual options paper on reducing the cost of higher education.
Universities, broadly speaking, say they are in favour of any measures which help reduce the cost of college for those most in need.
The Government committed to publishing the options in advance of the budget when it unveiled its policy to provide a sustainable funding base for the higher education sector earlier this year.
The measures are described as a “non-exhaustive list of options to be considered in advance of Budget 2023” and are being published without prejudice to eventual budget decisions.
Even though many students have either been accepted or rejected for grants in the current academic year, it is understood that applicants would be reassessed under any changed eligibility rules that may be included in the budget.