Cuts to grants forcing students onto dole

Disadvantaged students have virtually no option but to go on the dole if they want to return to college, writes Edel Hughes

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This year I applied for a student grant through Susi as I'd decided to return to college to study for a Master's degree. I had been out of college for 5 years and had been working continuously throughout. I was always working either one full-time job, part-time or 2 part-time jobs. At one stage I worked two lowly paid jobs for over 8 months.

As a mature student living independently, my income is assessed on its own. I checked the rate for a full fees grant and realised my income for the previous year would make me eligible for a full fees grant.

Yet, when I called Susi to ask why I had only been awarded a partial grant, they told me it was because I hadn't been in receipt of a social welfare payment in 2014. I was horrified by this.

I realise now had I been on the social welfare for a year before beginning college I would be entitled to a full fees grant plus a Back to Education payment. I could also possibly qualify for a rent supplement.

I feel I am being punished for being honest and hardworking. I have only ever once been in receipt of social welfare and it was only a part-time payment for a few months.

In addition to my financial circumstances, my dad died suddenly in 2014. As well as the shock of the bereavement it changed our family's means drastically. It meant my mother only has a widow’s pension and we were left with a lot of funeral expenses. My mother is 69 and has severe arthritis which means she is unable to work. I can't rely on her for money as she barely has enough for herself and my brother to live on.

I work part-time to pay my rent and bills and I'm hoping it won't affect my studies. I enjoy my part-time job but working during college is difficult. During my final year in my undergraduate course, I began to suffer from burnout while trying to juggle work, exams and a research project. Despite always having good grades, my marks suffered towards the end and I was surprised to get a 2:1 result.

By cutting the postgraduate maintenance grant, the Government has simply forced those wishing to pursue higher education onto the dole queue. Disadvantaged students have virtually no option but to go on the dole if they want to return to college. Masters degrees are no longer accessible to the less well-off. Being on the dole is not what these people want but it is the most convenient way for them to get an education.

The Grants Authority and Susi ought to reconsider their processes and take into consideration an individual's entire circumstances rather than just their earnings from one year. One year in a person's life does not define their status.

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