I want to go back to college. Do I qualify for any grants or financial supports?
Ask Brian: There are a range of funding schemes available for mature students
Mature students account for almost 10 per cent of enrolments in higher education. Photograph: iStock
I went into the workforce after leaving school at 18. Now in my early 30s, I have applied for a degree as a mature student but am not sure if I can afford it. Are there grants, scholarships or other financial supports available?
You aren’t alone. As of January 2018, there were 4,163 mature students enrolled in higher education institutions, almost 10 per cent of total students. These figures are set to grow over the coming years under Government targets.
There are a range of funding schemes that you should consider along with some programmes offered by non-governmental organisations. The student finance section on the Higher Education Authority’s website provides a good overview of the various options that might be open to you.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for free fees which covers the tuition costs in certain third level institutions. If you are planning to enrol full-time in a publicly funded institution, you may also be eligible for a student grant from Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi). If you are eligible, this grant will cover the student contribution portion of the fees (currently €3,000) and may provide you with a maintenance grant.
If you are getting an unemployment, one-parent family or disability payment, you may be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). If you are studying part-time, you may be able to keep your benefits under the Back to Education Programme. You should note, however, that you can only receive a Susi maintenance grant, or a BTEA, not both.
I’d encourage you to check the websites of the institutions you are applying to and contact the mature student or access officers for details of the various programmes, funds or scholarships that might be available. Furthermore, there are additional supports available in certain colleges for specific groups of students. For instance, if you have a disability you may be entitled to some financial support from the Fund for Students with Disabilities. Mature students are eligible to apply for the 1916 Bursary Fund. Once you are enrolled, some colleges offer a Student Assistance Fund if you encounter unexpected financial challenges.
In addition to these Government schemes, some credit unions offer scholarships and St Vincent de Paul offers a third level bursary scheme. It would be worthwhile to contact those organisations locally to see what is on offer and the deadlines for applications.
Finally, since 2018, the registered charity Uversity has been awarding higher education scholarships for adult learners for first time entrants to enrol on bachelor’s programme in any discipline in participating third level institutions.
If you are successful, the scholarships provide funding (uversity.org) that is tailored to your circumstances and programming for the duration of your studies. They are currently accepting applications until Sunday, March 1st 2020 and further information can be found on their website.