Students have a lot to contend with these days. Our choice of course or career is constantly questioned, and we are often asked “yes, I’m sure that’s a lovely course, but what kind of job can you get out of that?” And while prospective careers or whether we’ll get into the masters programme we want are very important, there are pressing issues we have to contend with while still attending college.
Third level education is expensive, there’s no doubt about it. Our “contribution fees” hit €3000 this year, student accommodation is practically non-existent, rent in Dublin is constantly on the rise, and living expenses are prohibitively high. Many students who move to Dublin to attend college have to pay fees, rent, and living expenses, without parental help or loans. To do this, many get part-time jobs. But it is incredibly difficult for students to make enough money to pay for all of these costs.
Even with the increase in the minimum wage from €8.65 to €9.15, it would be incredibly difficult for a student to make this kind of money while attending college full time.
The Dublin Institute of Technology Campus Life cost-of-living guide estimated that the cost of studying away from home reached €11,000 for the 2014/15 academic year. This includes such vital expenses as the contribution charge, rent, utilities, and food. Even with the increase in the minimum wage from €8.65 to €9.15, it would be incredibly difficult for a student to make this kind of money while attending college full time. To earn €11,000 in a year, a student would have to work 23 hours a week on the new minimum wage, a time commitment that is impossible for many.
This is a huge issue for students working part-time jobs. Working as many hours as possible to make as much money as possible, and attending all of their contact hours in college, not to mention completing the various assignments and readings, leaves students with a complex balancing act. Health science students have upwards of thirty hours in some cases, and while arts students have fewer contact hours, they are often expected to spend as much time reading as they do in classes and lectures.
The expenses are many and the solutions to them are few. For students who aren’t from Dublin or can’t live at home, the rapidly rising costs of accommodation mean this cost-of-living estimate will likely increase too. According to figures released by the Private Residential Tenancies Board, rent in Dublin increased almost 10% over the last year. Many students, realising how difficult it is to come by accommodation nowadays, jump at anything available. On the Facebook page, “Rent in Dublin” this summer, I came across an advertisement for an apartment on Parnell Street that described the apartment as a lovely and homely space, available for just €400 a month, with the closing line of the ad informing you that you would be sharing a double bed with a Brazilian girl. While this ad shocked me, what astounded me was the interest the post received. People were clamouring for any room they could get, so that when September rolled around they wouldn’t be left adrift.
Third level education was essentially ignored altogether in the most recent budget and the SUSI grant scheme is inherently flawed.
The Irish government is doing little to assist students with their financial woes. Third level education was essentially ignored altogether in the most recent budget and the SUSI grant scheme is inherently flawed, with little means testing involved in it. Many find loopholes so they can avail of the grant – which involves the government paying for contribution fees and a maintenance grant of €336.18 for nine months of the year – while many struggling to make ends meet cannot avail of it for various reasons. The UK system is very different. Students apply for loans from the government that must be repaid at a later stage. Students can apply for tuition fee loans, or maintenance loans for living costs, which are available at different rates depending on circumstances, such as if the student is living at home, living away from home, or studying abroad. While the Irish government seems to be kinder to students in that we are given grants as opposed to loans, the UK system seems much more prudent. At least it really helps those who need it.
The whole issue of how university life is funded is something that will hopefully be examined in a lot more depth coming up to the next general election. Many Leaving Cert students have begun choosing their CAO choices based on where the university is, and where would be cheaper to live. This is a sad state of affairs, as it forces students to make choices based on financial pressures, rather than on what would be best for their career. But when the alternative is working a minimum of 23 hours a week, slaving through college to pay skyrocketing rent and expensive living costs, it’s clear that sacrificing one’s college preference may be the only solution.
But hopefully if the government finally recognises this problem, then maybe some of the financial pressures facing students will ease.