Recent budgetary announcements have provided students and other vulnerable social groups with a degree of solace.
Nevertheless, the Cost of Living Crisis continues to cast an inauspicious shadow over the Government's policy record.
In the wake of the decision to reduce the Student Contribution Charge for this academic year by €1000, many households have breathed a sigh of relief. However, as bills continue to rise, the crisis continues to permeate every facet of life both on and off campus. Having historically had the highest student fees in Europe, the once off €2000 charge is part of a multitude of measures implemented by the Government in response to public pressure.
The charge will be reduced by €500 on a permanent basis for households earning €62,000-€100,000. It will fall by a further €500 next year for families earning under €100,000. UCDSU has welcomed these decisions, but has remained firm in calls to have the charge abolished altogether. As of yet, there has been no reduction in fees for Postgraduate students, although the Postgraduate Fee Contribution Grant will see a once-off €1000 increase.
The SUSI Grant is projected to increase by 10-14% in 2023 in recognition of the rising Cost of Living, and the threshold for the 50% (€1500) Contribution Grant has been increased to include those from households earning under €62,000. SUSI Grant recipients are also expected to receive a once-off double payment, as are PhD students who receive the Special Rate Grant, prior to Christmas. The contribution fee for apprentices is also expected to fall by 33%.
€8 million will be set aside for the Student Assistance Fund for the 2022/23 Academic Year. Minister McGrath has claimed that €150 million in additional funding will be provided in order to address critical shortfalls in core funding. However, this assertion has been disputed by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) who have claimed that the additional funding available stands at €40 million, a figure much lower than the Government's claim. Jim Miley, Director-General of the IUA argued that: 'Our universities have a pivotal role to play in responding to the pandemic and in contributing to the national recovery,' as reported in the Irish Examiner.
The government has also announced a tax credit scheme for renters, however, a SIPTU economist found that this amounts to a mere €2 of relief as it is not a direct cash payment but merely a reduction in tax paid. UCDSU has criticised the government for failing to clarify if students are included in the scheme, given that many have licensee arrangements, or live in digs. A €600 electricity credit will be introduced to assist families in paying energy bills, to be paid in instalments, and disabled people will also receive a once-off €500 payment.
The budget comes as many students, particularly those from socioeconomically disadvantaged and marginalised backgrounds, struggle to balance work with study, and face immense financial challenges. While it is expected to offer respite to some of the worst-off, there remains a lack of clarity surrounding the legal status of students in relation to their capacity to access certain supports. It is clear, however, that the Government has acknowledged pressure from Trade Unions, Civil Societies, NGO 's, Students' Unions, and the wider electorate.