UCD assistance funds facing cuts

The Student Welfare Fund is being cut by the European Department of Enterprise. The fund is allocated to students who experience financial difficulties whilst pursuing further education.The money, which comes both from the Government and the European Social Fund, is divided between HEAR (Higher Education Access Route), the Student Assistance Fund, the Accessibility Fund and the Welfare Fund in UCD. The President of the Students’ Union, Rachel Breslin says that the Higher Education Authority will be informing UCD of the amount of their allocation next week.The HEAR grant is also facing uncertainty this year, with the possibility of being halved. An e-mail sent to students states: “We are still waiting on confirmation of the total amount of funding we will have to allocate for the HEAR grant, however I am afraid that it will be significantly less than in previous years. As such, we will pay the semester one grant payment of €500, however at the moment we cannot guarantee a semester two payment, and you should plan accordingly.”The Accessibility Fund has also suffered a cut this year as it did not spend its full budget in previous years. Breslin stated: “In 2010 its full budget wasn’t spent, so they have cut it. I can’t remember the exact figure, but it may be halved.”Problems have also arisen with the administration of the Student Assitance Fund, a means-tested fund for students in financial difficulty, as there is no chairperson for the committee this year. These administrative difficulties have caused uncertainty as to when the money will become available for students. Breslin said: “The Vice President for Students and other people involved in the administration are to look at what’s being done to plug that gap. It is my understanding that no one else was able to take on that chairperson role. Our own Welfare Officer volunteered to do the job but wasn’t suitable. It’s really just a case of how to process it.”The Students’ Union has been consulting with other members of the USI (Union of Students Ireland) as to how best to manage the administration process for this fund. There was discussion of putting all the money into the Welfare Fund (a fund for financial emergencies) and administering it through that, however it has been decided this is not the most efficient way to process payments. “The Welfare Fund is labour-intensive in terms of administration. We’re trying to get information from other colleges as to how best to process it and set up a system in the knowledge that all the student advisors in the administration are really stretched right now”, Breslin explained.Last year, extra funding for the Student Welfare Fund was secured from the Government, while Kylemore also provided additional funding, with over 400 students benefiting. Breslin expressed the need for a means-tested fund to assist students who are struggling financially. “There’s no way we can’t have this fund, we just need to find a way to make it work... The money is there… We’re asking the college to make a decision very quickly. Last year the closing date was in about three weeks’ time. There’s quite a limited window even if you extend it by a week… We will ensure that there is a means tested fund.”