Thurles Town Councillor Gerard Fogarty (Fianna Fáil) has accused the the Fine Gael/Labour Government of failing students and downplaying the crisis over the non-payment of student grants.
Cllr. Fogarty has called on Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to put in place emergency measures to ensure that students receive grant payments in the New Year and stop further students from leaving college.
“I’m delighted that Thurles Town Council at its last meeting passed a motion calling on the Minister to protect third level funding and address this crisis urgently.
“With the grave administrative incompetence surrounding the non-payment of grants coupled with budget measures targeting students, one could think that the Government are trying to force students out of college. I see on a regular basis how the non payment of grants has affected my friends and peers, trying to travel home, make ends meet and prepare for Christmas. While thousands of grant applications have been processed, just a fraction of these students have actually received a payment. Figures released to Fianna Fáil Spokesperson for Education through Parliamentary Questions show that little over 10% of eligible students who applied for grants this year had a received a payment as of the end of November.
“The Minister’s main concern in this crisis is to spin and blame students for not completing forms fully. The Minister ignores the fact that such a gross anomaly has never happened before and in my opinion there is a national crisis in the student support system.
“Earlier this month in the Budget the Government had the audacity to increase the qualifying threshold for the maintenance grant and increase the student contribution. As well as a further cut to higher education of 6% over the next 3 years. Coupled with last year’s cuts including the abolition of the grant for postgrads, 3% overall grant cut and 20% cut in student disability services. This amounted to over €200 million in a raid on the education budget, a budget which considering the increasing population should be ring-fenced from cuts.
“It now looks extremely likely that the vast majority of students will not receive a grant payment until well into the New Year. After the Christmas period it will be extremely difficult for lower income families to pay for next semester’s rent and materials let alone making ends meet.
“It is the lack of certainty that is causing the most distress for students and their families. Particularly first year students embarking on 3/4 year courses. It is time for Minister Quinn to stop worrying about his PR, and start being upfront with students about when exactly they will see their grants. Students find it difficult to get part-time jobs in this economic climate and they need their grant payments as they cannot get jobseekers or other payments.
“The longer this lingers, the greater the likelihood that more students will be forced to drop out of third level altogether. This fails to make any economy sense as it will just increase the dole numbers while depriving the next generation of important qualifications.
“It is important to learn from mistakes and the Minister needs to introduce emergency measures to ensure that the new grant administration body Student Universal Support Ireland can complete all applications before students return to college. I foresee a further funding crisis towards the end of this college year due to extraordinary pressures on colleges’ Student Assistance Funds and Student Hardship Funds.” concluded Cllr. Fogarty.