A cut to the student registration charge and increases in grants for thousands of students are among the options on the table in the run-up to next autumn’s Budget.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris said his department would produce an options paper over the summer setting out the cost of measures under consideration to support students.
He said three key areas he wished to see examined included the €3,000 student registration charge – which was reduced to €2,000 as a once-off measure last year – an “overhaul” of the grant scheme and measures to cushion student accommodation costs.
In relation to grants, he said he was keen to take measures which could extend supports to part-time students.
“I have a very, very strong view that the system needs to be overhauled,” he said. “When the Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) grants scheme was introduced about decade ago ... it was generally seen as meeting the cost of education. The world has changed since then, in terms of the cost of accommodation and the profile of students.
“More and more part-time students are accessing higher education. I’m encouraging that, it is Government policy to encourage hat, but we’re not supporting them through grants and that doesn’t sit well with me.”
He also signalled that his department was examining the option of providing funding for UCD, Trinity College Dublin and UCC to help “unblock” on-campus student accommodation.
Mr Harris was speaking on Thursday in advance of a pre-Budget meeting with students and stakeholder groups to discuss what can be done to reduce the cost of education.
More than 100 attendees were at the event including students from higher education, further education and apprenticeships, student union groups, further and higher education institutions and representative bodies.
Mr Harris said the meeting gave learners an opportunity to have their voices and priorities heard which would help inform the budgetary process.
These priorities will help department officials prepare an annual paper of options which will be published in advance of Budget 2024.
He said reducing the cost of education for learners and boosting funding for the further and higher education sector were key priorities.
“We have made a number of important changes in recent years to bring down the cost of college and further education and training. In Budget 2023, we reduced the cost of the student administration fee and made it easier for more students to access the Susi grant,” he said.
“We are also helping higher education institutions build student accommodation so that it will be easier for students to study the course they want, where they want. However, it is clear we need to do more.”
While Ireland has one of the highest participation rates in third level education in Europe, he said third level remained out of reach for many people.
He said he was especially keen to hear from access and support officers, and groups advocating for students who were currently underrepresented in education about what measure could make the greatest impact.
“All of this will be considered and brought together as an options paper on reducing the cost of education, which will be published in advance of the estimates process,” he said.