By Sean Ryan - 27 August, 2017
As thousands of students received offers of a place at third level from the CAO last Monday, the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) welcomed new third level supports for up to 2,000 disadvantaged students to attend third level.
Earlier this week the Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton TD and the Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD announced €16.5m for new initiatives to widen access to higher education over the next three years, with a strong focus on helping lone parents to access higher level education.
The supports will include funding bursaries worth €5,000 for 600 students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college, with support for at least 120 socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents. This will be a €6m regional call over three years. There will be funding for support programmes to help 2,000 students (of which 200 will be lone parents) from non-traditional backgrounds to enter college and successfully complete their courses. This will be a €7.5m regional call over three years. There will be a further €3m over three years in increased funding for the hardship supports to help students, with lone parents being prioritised.
The groups being targeted include entrants from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities, entrants with disabilities, mature entrants, members of the Irish Traveller community, students entering on the basis of a further education award, part-time flexible learners, socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents and ethnic minorities.
Speaking about the new supports, SVP Social Policy Officer Tricia Keilthy said “The announcement of additional bursaries of up to €5,000 for some categories of students and an increase in budget for the Student Assistance Fund are positive developments.” She said that SVP supports many students to access and participate in third level education and knows that costs are a major barrier to participation for low income and disadvantaged students.
SVP helps with the cost of fees, accommodation, transport, childcare, books and materials, as state supports such as SUSI and the Back to Education Allowance are insufficient to cover these costs.
The Society also welcomes the new support measures to ensure lone parents not only go to college but are also supported to complete their programme of study. “Lone parents and their children are the group most at risk of poverty in Ireland today. SVP volunteers see first-hand the positive benefits of further and higher education for these families, including greater employment opportunities, improvements in household income, and positive health and well-being,” said Tricia Keilthy.
She also said that juggling parenting, studying full-time and working part-time is challenging. If someone makes the decision to go back to education they should be supported in every way possible. “The measures announced today are a small step in the right direction and we hope that they will be expanded to a greater number of students over the coming years.”
In its submission for Budget 2018, SVP also recommends that the cuts and changes to the SUSI grant are reversed and that eligibility for the maintenance grant is expanded to part-time students. This will give more disadvantaged groups the opportunity to access and participate in further education, it says. It is SVP’s experience that the reduction in the maintenance grant and the changes to the adjacent grant distance have put third level education further out of reach for many low-income groups.