Funding of Ad Astra scholarships almost halved

THE Ad Astra scholarship programme has seen cuts of up to €3,500 per student since 2015. At the same time the number of students enrolled in the programme has dropped by almost a third.Previous to 2015, students accepted into the scholarship were given a possible €6,500 in assistance. This amount has now more than halved with new students into the programme receiving €3,000.Students who entered the programme before 2015 will continue on the funding scheme that they began their course on. This includes between €1,500 to €4,000 of the student fees covered and an additional bursary of €1,000. Accommodation was also covered with students offered either 50% off on-campus residences Belgrove or Roebuck Castle.Students who entered the scholarship programme from 2015 onwards now receive a lump sum of €3,000 for the year, spread between semesters one and two. This also includes a reserved space in on-campus accommodation.The total number of students on the programme have fallen dramatically with the cuts. In 2014, there were 93 new students registered while in 2015 the number fell to 66 and this year the number has fallen again to just 49.As a result, students in the same programme at the same time receive different levels of funding.UCDSU education officer Lexi Kilmartin commented that: “it’s pretty terrible considering it’s UCD’s only real scholarship… if you look at the scholar awards and all that kind of stuff, there’s nothing to the same extent.” By comparison, Trinity College Dublin offers a variation of sports scholarships ranging from those worth €1000 to €9500.The programme was launched in 2011 and is described by the university as “an initiative designed to recognise and nurture exceptional students.” The Ad Astra programme has three different branches; academic, elite athlete and performing arts. Irish Olympians such as Ciara Mageean and Paul O’Donovan have previously come through the athlete part of the programme.Speaking to a student on the performing arts stream, they were quick to praise the benefits of the programme. “It’s like something I’d do for free for fun for the rest of my life so like getting to do it [here]…yeah, it’s great.” The student was also keen to highlight the support and guidance offered.A similar sentiment was expressed by graduate student and UCD AFC goalkeeper Niall Corbet, who had been on a sport scholarship. He described it as “a very good experience” particularly praising the supports offered by the university.“If it was a case that there was someone else on the Ad Astra programme that was a year ahead of you, or a year below you, you could get advice and help off them so, there was a [connection] to really help you. So, it was difficult at times, but at the same time there was an opportunity for you to keep going.”Noting the amount of funding that students on Ad Astra scholarships received, Corbet said: “I think they were very fair, to be honest, I don't know the situation now but when I first arrived four years ago, it was very fair and there was no cutting or anything - it stayed the same.”However, Kilmartin suggests that the cuts are just part of a wider university policy to deal with lack of funding. “If the opportunity cost of keeping the scholarships sorry at their previous level, was larger class sizes, less books in the library and things that have an impact for the entire student population then its easier to justify the cost. If the opportunity cost is building some new building then it’s less easy to justify.”