Hundreds of students from less well-off families who attend private third-level colleges in Ireland should be entitled to grants, an Oireachtas committee has recommended.
Unlike the rest of the higher education sector, students at private colleges – such as Griffith College and Dublin Business School – are not entitled to grant support, even though these courses are approved by the State's education quality watchdog, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).
In hearings last year the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education heard of one case of a low-income student who was offered a college place at Dublin Business School but later realised they were ineligible for grant support.
If they had registered for the same course at the Dublin Institute of Technology – located nearby – they would have been entitled to a maintenance grant of €2,800 and a registration grant of €3,000.
The committee’s report has recommended that eligibility for grants should be based on the means of the student rather than on the choice of college, as long as a course is approved by QQI.
These grants, it said, should be of the same value as those paid in the higher education sector.
It also said the Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) website should make it clearer that students at private colleges are currently not entitled to grant support.
In a statement, the Department of Education said it will consider the Oireachtas committee’s report.
“The policy of providing free fees and grant aid to students in publicly-funded colleges and tax relief on fees paid is a long-established feature in Ireland,” a department spokeswoman said.
She added that tax relief on tuition fees may be available for students attending courses in institutions which are not approved for the purposes of grant support.
‘Wake up Susi’
The Oireachtas committee heard evidence last year from the “Wake up Susi” campaign, which represents hundreds of students at private colleges who would be eligible for grants if they were attending public colleges.
Student Pierce Connolly, who started the campaign, welcomed the report's finding and called on Minister for Education Richard Bruton to implement it.
“We welcome the decision. We’ve been working on this campaign for nearly two years and we’re glad that the issue has been officially acknowledged,” he said.
Mr Connolly, from Boyle, Co Roscommon, said he would have been eligible for a grant if he attended a public institution. However, his family had to take out loans of more than €30,000 to help fund his education.
“There is a view of people who think that because you go to a private college that you are rolling in money,” said Mr Connolly, who is a third-year journalism student.
“I went to Griffith because it has smaller classes and I knew I would have a better learning experience. They also have a vast range of modules and a great alumni.”
The campaign has also highlighted that some students who attend other private colleges – including the British and Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM), the Sound Training Centre, and Setanta College – are eligible for grants. This is because their degrees are awarded by institutes of technology.
The Department of Education said it currently provides more than €380 million every year through Susi grants for 80,000 students, or 45 per cent of all students attending higher education.