Today’s announcement by the Department of Education to improve third level supports for up to 2,000 disadvantaged students is described as a positive step by The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP).
SVP has continually advocated for the enhancement of support for non-traditional students and the decision to provide supports for part-time study was a key ask in SVP’s 2018 Pre-Budget Submission.
"The announcement of additional bursaries of up to €5,000 for some categories of students and an increase in budget for the Student Assistance Fund are positive developments,” said Tricia Keilthy SVP Social Policy Development Officer.
She said that SVP support many students to access and participate in third level and know that costs are a major barrier to participation for low income and disadvantaged students.
SVP help with the cost of fees, accommodation, transport, childcare, books and materials, as state supports such as SUSI and the Back to Education Allowance are insufficient to cover these costs.
The Society also welcomes the new support measures to ensure lone parents not only go to college but are also supported to complete their programme of study.
"Lone parents and their children are the group most at risk of poverty in Ireland today. SVP volunteers see first-hand the positive benefits of further and higher education for these families, including greater
employment opportunities, improvements in household income, and positive health and wellbeing.” said Tricia Keilthy
She also said that juggling parenting, studying full-time and working part-time is challenging. If someone makes the decision to go back to education they should be supported in every way possible.
"The measures announced today are a small step in the right direction and we hope that they will be expanded to a greater number of students over the coming years.“
In its submission for Budget 2018, SVP also recommends that the cuts and changes to the SUSI grant are reversed and that eligibility to the maintenance grant is expanded to part-time students. This will give more disadvantaged groups the opportunity to access and participate in further education, it says.
It is SVP’s experience that the reduction in the maintenance grant and the changes to the adjacent grant distance has put third level further out of reach for many low-income groups.