In response to the cost of living crisis, students were hoping for the Budget 2023 announcement to bring positive changes, Simran Kathuria investigates to see if expectations have been met.
A budget of €11 billion was announced by the Irish Government on September 27th, focusing mainly on the rising cost of living. Typically announced in October, the budget came two weeks earlier this year. Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, presented a host of measures for students. The talk of student relief schemes has brought out mixed reactions, with some calling it an insufficient effort.
A one-time fee reduction of €1,000 for undergraduate students has been announced. Those studying in third-level education programs who are required to pay €3,000 as a student contribution charge, will now be charged €2,000 from the upcoming academic year. However, the fee cut does not apply to those taking higher education in private colleges or to any international student outside of the European Union.
"much more needs to be done"
Responding to the ‘once-off’ fee reduction scheme, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President, Beth O’Reilly, told the Irish Times that the reduction would quickly be spent on high rents and soaring costs of living, “The budget was a missed opportunity towards abolishing fees and it would not be sufficient for students as many have already deferred their places in colleges this year because they couldn’t afford the living cost”.
Akash Sharma, MSc International Accounting and Finance student, at Dublin Business School said, “The scheme is a relief for students, but the numbers have to be compared with other developed EU nations as well. Ireland spends the least on education among 36 other EU countries. The scheme is a step towards betterment for sure, but not entirely”.
According to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Ireland spends 3.2% of its GDP on Education, lower than the 4.9% OECD average. “There is an Indian Proverb, ‘small cumin seed in a camel’s mouth’. I feel the same for this budget. I understand that the Government has to take a holistic view while allocating funds under various heads, and I appreciate the government's steps so far, but much more needs to be done” stated Sharma.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, has also put forth the provision of an increase in the maintenance grant rate. A double Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) maintenance grant will be paid to eligible students. This includes PLC students, Undergraduate students, and Postgraduate students falling under the Special Rate of Grant category. Postgraduate students who qualify for the SUSI fee contribution grant will get a once-off increase of €1,000, this will be paid directly to their colleges. However, those covered under special rates are not included in this scheme.
There is an Indian Proverb ‘small cumin seed in a camel’s mouth’ I feel the same for this budget
Families who are assessed between an income bracket of €50,840 and €62,000 will be eligible for a 50% student contribution grant. Meanwhile, those assessed as having an income between €62,000 and €100,000 will be eligible for a grant of €500 towards their student contribution fees, coming into effect from September next year. The Postgraduate SUSI fee grant will also be increased by €500 starting September 2023. Meanwhile, Ph.D. students will get an increased stipend of €500. “It is very disappointing to see a small stipend increase of €500 that only applies to SFI [Science Foundation Ireland] and IRC [Irish Research Council] Ph.D. students”, said Maeve Richardson, spokesperson for the USI, in an interview to RTÉ.
Talk on minimum wage rate was also featured in the budget speech. The national minimum wage rate per hour has been increased by €0.80 from €10.50 now to €11.30, starting from January 2023, as part of a new support system. This has been seen as a big boost for both the working class and students engaged in part-time jobs. “Per hour wage rate increase is a good step for both students and the working class. But on the contrary, it’ll burden the employer by forcing them to hire fewer people to save money. This can have a negative impact in the long run” stated Aashray Malhotra, MSc Information Systems program student at UCD.
The cost-of-living crisis has left many students in limbo, forcing them to either defer their places or drop out, with many still struggling to find jobs while trying to cope with financial hardships. The budget addressed the short-term need to balance households and rising inflation, but issues associated with high costs persist. Liam Kennedy, Professor of Journalism and International Affairs at Clinton Institute of American Studies, UCD, commented that “The government needs to address the issue of student accommodation. There is a severe housing crisis, and this is going to get worse as winter is approaching. Efforts have been made by the government and the one-time off €1,000 scheme has somewhat reduced 1/3rd of the burden, but that is not enough. We need long-term solutions”.