Should UCD make its prices for student accommodation proportional to parental income?

To ensure accessibility of education and the well-being of its students, UCD should make its fees proportional to parental income. Not all fees are covered by the free fees initiative and Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI). The most daunting factor of university is accommodation. With the rising cost of living in Dublin, any undue financial burden could keep a student from being able to attend school.

Tuition fees for EU citizens range from €5,880-€20,700, with the lowest cost being for arts degrees and the higher costs belonging to STEM majors, especially within medicine. These fees are covered by the free fees initiative, unless the student has lived outside the EU for three or more years. The free fees initiative, however, does not cover the €3,000 student contribution cost or the €254 student levy.

The student contribution charge is, for EU citizens, usually covered by SUSI. As noted by the UCD website, "depending on the rate of grant awarded, it may not cover the full Student Contribution Charge for Undergraduate Students, the Tuition Fees for Post-Graduate Students or other fees not covered by SUSI.” While this is reflective of SUSI already making its grants proportionate to parental income, the grants do not directly cover the student levy.

SUSI provides a monthly maintenance grant based on income which may be used to pay the student levy. This maintenance payment is only given if the student’s family makes below €49,840 with increases in the income threshold based on the number of dependent children and additional persons in the family attending college. Depending on where the student is living, this may make a noticeable difference in their monthly budget.

The cheapest accommodation on campus, Belgrove, costs about €790 per month, typically paid in three lump sums over the term. For students living far away from campus, this could be the economic barrier between them and college. Living at home may not be a feasible option due to transport times and if their family makes above €43,380 their SUSI maintenance grant would not cover the cost of living on campus.

Additionally, on-campus accommodation is only guaranteed to first-year international students. Off-campus accommodation has similar problems as the housing crisis continues, which leads to a shortage of space for students and an average rent of €1,391. Cheaper options exist in shared housing, but the issue of availability remains. For students unable to live at home, this will have dire consequences.

Students are not considered independent by SUSI unless they have documentation proving they are living independently. For students above the age of 23 this comes in the form of proof of address, while those under 23 would need documentation of estrangement from their parents. This documentation may come in the form of Garda reports, proof of court proceedings or letters from the HSE. Therefore, a student could be living on their own and still have their grant tied to parental income if they lack proper documentation.

A deficit in funding could be dealt with through a student loan, but they are an unwieldy option. Bank of Ireland offers loans up to €10,000 with a 5% annual percentage rate (APR), but if the amount needed exceeds €10,000 the next option, Allied Irish Banks, has an APR of 8.5%. With either option the cost of credit increases heavily with each additional year.

The debt incurred in the course of a degree is considerably higher for the part of UCD’s international students born outside the EU. For non-EU students the range of tuition fees is €16,000-€55,140, the highest fees being those of STEM majors. Not only are the fees higher, there are no services available to cover any of them and, like all international students, living at home is not an option.

If UCD is committed to making education more accessible, adjustment of fees is the first step. One of the most effective ways of achieving this would be to make accommodation fees proportional to parental income. This would ensure students unable to commute would still have an option to attend UCD if they cannot find off-campus accommodation.

This brings back the issue of students without the documentation to prove they are living independently from their parents. In this case, being charged based off their parent’s income rather than their own would place them at an obvious economic disadvantage. However, with the framework of income-based fees in place, residence on campus could give them the opportunity to obtain said documentation and then be charged based on their own income.

Tying all fees to parental income would fulfil the goal of having a wide range of backgrounds within UCD. This would prevent the university from losing a unique student’s contribution to the academic environment due to that student being unable to access the financial assistance they need. This would not only lead to a more diverse university, but to one in which students can concentrate on their studies rather than worrying about their finances.