College costs have fallen but expect return to ‘normal’ in 2021

If well organised ‘anyone can afford college’, says student budgeting adviser

In 2021 students are likely to see a return to the more familiar costs of college. Photograph: iStock

In 2021 students are likely to see a return to the more familiar costs of college. Photograph: iStock


Student budgets, like the rest of the world, have been thrown upside down by the pandemic. For some, the costs of living have increased because they’re out of work, still paying rent and paying higher broadband, heat and electricity bills as a result of working at home. Others have seen costs fall because they’re unexpectedly living at home, don’t have to pay commuting costs and aren’t spending as much on socialising.

“For most students, travel costs have reduced and rent is less likely to be an issue,” says Ruth Killeen, student budgeting adviser at Maynooth University. “Of course, this depends on whether they have a suitable home environment for online study; younger siblings and poor internet connectivity [are among the factors that] mean they need to rent or travel to a suitable location to focus on their course.”

Killeen says that while some students are financially better off on the Covid-19 pandemic payment, Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi), which administers student grants, has yet to decide on how this payment will be assessed in 2021.

A vaccine is likely to be administered to the general population before college begins in 2021, so students are likely to see a return to the more familiar costs of college.

“Incoming students for 2021-2022 should consider costs such as travel and examine their commuting options,” says Killeen. “Compare the cost and value of on- and off-campus accommodation options.”

Reliable technology

The lockdowns have highlighted the need for a reliable laptop or PC along with a good internet connection.

“MU [Maynooth University] is working to ensure that students will have access to laptops through both the short-term and long-term laptop loan scheme. More textbooks are available in online formats due to the pandemic, so students may need to consider if they need the option to print at home or have a suitable device to read large volumes of text. To ensure a smooth transition between learning formats, reliable IT equipment will be essential,” she says.

For some students, whether or not they’re eligible for a Susi grant, and with Ireland having relatively high “student registration fees” of €3,000 per year (a fee by any other name) is college simply unaffordable for some?

“I strongly believe that anyone can afford to attend college once they plan well and research the options for support for their circumstances before they start,” says Killeen.

“Understanding the criteria for Susi is vital, including the holiday earnings disregard, change in circumstances and implications of having a sibling or parent in further or higher education in the same year as themselves. If the student is not eligible for Susi support, they need to reach out to the college and see what options they have for fee payment and see if they are eligible for supports with college-related expenses such as the Student Assistance Fund. Planning is key and asking for advice from the college is essential.”