Help Wanted: One-third of Irish students need help paying their college fees

With the release of new research from Bank of Ireland, Mark Jackson examines the statistics revealed about Irish students and their financial situations.

New research commissioned by Bank of Ireland as part of its Financial Wellbeing programme which helps “inform and educate students on spending and saving in a way that suits their needs,'' has been recently published. The third level research was conducted by iReach on behalf of Bank of Ireland and was carried out in August of this year. The study surveyed a total of 550 people, 53% of which were female and 47% were male. When asked about the incentive for this study Bank of Ireland stated “we understand that going to college can be a time when students can feel under financial pressure.”

The findings have revealed that more than one third (36%) of third-level students require financial aid from their parents to pay their college fees. Their parents either pay in full or partly contribute to their fees. It has also been revealed that the average third-level student has a mean income of €258 per month or just €9.20 per day. 35% claim that they only have a disposable income of less than €100 a month. It was found that two in three (65%) university students live at home in order to ease the financial pressure placed on their shoulders. This was found to be the most common financial aid with more than half of all participants (53%) receiving rent-free board at home. Meanwhile one in four (24%) of those who travel to college have their travel expenses or tickets paid by their parents.

For those renting privately, 23% receive financial assistance from their family along with 22% needing parents to contribute to the cost of utility bills either in part or in full. A little over half of students (51%) are sharing accommodation with three or four other people. 50% of those living in shared accommodation live with people they haven’t met before. This causes conflicts about keeping the kitchen tidy (47%), the common area tidy (43%), and doing the washing up after meals (39%).

It was also found that around 35% have a disposable income of less than €100 per month. This income is either saved or earned through a part-time job with 63% working part-time and 8% working full-time throughout the college term. Overall, eight in ten students save during the year with €164 being the average saved per month. These savings are most commonly set aside for student life expenses such as fees (24%), a vehicle (25%) or summer holidays (34%). The Head of Youth Banking, Rory Carty, stated that: “From finding affordable accommodation to making time for studies, students in Ireland are working part time and trying to enjoy their social life too.”

One-third (33%) of students admit that they bring their laundry home while 28% say that they raid cupboards for food to take back to their rented accommodation. 27% of students who live away from home found it difficult to be without their family and 23% struggle to cook their own meals for the first time.

Despite financial pressures, Irish students won’t skimp on social life (30%). 19% of participants in the Bank of Ireland study admitted having skipped a meal in order to pay for college nights out. A large chunk of participants (82%) use subscription services for music and entertainment, but half of them borrow login details, with consent, from a friend or family member.

Similar data were recorded in 2018 with the publication of the sixth Eurostudent survey in which over 20,000 Irish third-level students took part. Around 36% of the participants were reported as experiencing serious or very serious financial problems. It was the older students who were more likely to experience financial difficulties with 42% over the age of 24 stating this was the case.

Although prevalent in Ireland, financial pressure associated with college fees does not exist in all European countries. A report published by the European Commission in 2017 - and as reported by the Irish Times - found that Irish third-level students pay the second highest fees in Europe, surpassed only by the British; Irish students have to pay €3,000 in fees while British students pay an equivalent of €10,000 in fees. In total, eleven jurisdictions, of which Denmark, Finland and Germany are a part, charge no fees for first-time undergraduate students.

As part of the ‘free fees’ initiative, the first-time undergraduate student in Ireland must pay the full €3,000 of the student contribution charge along with any college-specific costs, for example the €254 student centre levy requested here in UCD.