European Report Shows Ireland Lags in Student Grant Provision

Eurydice released its annual report on National Student Fee and Support Systems in European Higher Education this month, as part of an ongoing Education, Audiovisual, and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) study across the 28 EU member states.According to the EACEA’s report, Ireland’s higher education system featured a high percentage of fee-payers and a low percentage of grant recipients, putting it in line with member states such as Belgium, France, and Italy. While first-time third-level students in Ireland are exempt from paying full tuition fees, students are expected to pay a €3000 student contribution for each academic year.60% of Irish undergraduates paid the €3000 student contribution and other tuition fees for the 2017/18 academic year, while only 44% of students received need-based grants.  By way of comparison, the percentage of grant beneficiaries in Sweden and Denmark stood at 89% and 85% respectively, while at the lower end of the scale, only 4% of Croatian students in higher education received state-funded grants.The report identified these grants as the most common form of student support in Europe, and a key contributor to students' perception of their financial security during their studies. Ireland’s relatively low grant availability means students are often dependent on family financial support or part-time work to pay for their education. While many financially disadvantaged students are exempt from paying fees, and eligible for need-based grants, the report noted that some disadvantaged students face significant difficulties in accessing higher education in Ireland.Eurydice’s report comes in the wake of the UK’s decision to move away from a student grants and loans system towards an exclusively loan-based system. As of the 2016/17 academic year, undergraduates in the United Kingdom may receive a maintenance loan for living costs up to a maximum value of £11,002 per year. 92% of students in England availed of these loans, with loan repayment contingent upon employment that pays above a 'repayment threshold.'In the 2016 Cassell’s report, a similar loan system was suggested as one of the three options for the future of funding third-level education in Ireland. However last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar downplayed the possibility of the introduction of loan-based financial support in Ireland, citing the example of US graduates being "saddled with enormous debts."Eurydice’s report on National Student Fee and Support Systems in European Higher Education for the 2017/18 academic year can be viewed in full on the EACEA website.