Students have never exactly been at the forefront of governmental worries. For a government long-submerged by a variety of under-funded sectors of society, issues facing higher education institutions and students have found themselves collecting dust on the shelves of governments of past and present.
Like many other subsections of the government during this anomalous time, pre-existing issues facing higher education found themselves completely exacerbated by an upheaval of norms, while unprecedented hurdles too emerged for higher education institutions around the country.
Budget 2021 was a small token of recognition for this sector. The allocation of funds saw the government putting a microscopic focus on the financial hardships that had been faced by many third-level students, with the creation of a €50 million fund for third-level students, while the SUSI budget had grown by €20 million. For third-level, it seemed the sector had begun to find it’s footing on the stage of governmental funding.
Historically for the individual, however, the allocation of higher education funding can be a somewhat mystifying idea, with little being so evidently allocated directly to the student themselves. Paired with this, many students have found themselves coming face-to-face with unemployment and precarious education access in the last six months. Budget 2021 allowed for an atypical approach to combating this disparity between the individual student and the government body – an allocation €250 to each student.
Budget 2021 allowed for an atypical approach to combating this disparity between the individual student and the government body – an allocation €250 to each student
With nearly 200,000 students having the potential to avail of this scheme, the campaign will sweep across the nation, directly impacting the lives of a large majority of full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students. Those who avail of the SUSI grant shall receive the payment as a to-up to their grant, while those who do not will be able to reduce any outstanding contribution fee payment by €250 or receive a €250 credit note for their institution. The scheme – if successful – will be something of a completely unprecedented attempt at alleviating the financial burden many of these students have faced.
Many, if not most, students have felt some impact of the upheaval of financial stability due to the impact of coronavirus. The hospitality industry – arguably young people’s greatest employers – has been devastated, and the effect of this has left few students unscathed. While certainly many young people will be grateful for the bursary, it begs the question as to how impactful this scheme actually will be in having any long-term effect on the lives of these students.
To facilitate this grant, the government allocated a total of €50 million to the sector. While €250 will certainly make a dent in student’s yearly fee payments, the impact is short-lived and inevitably somewhat hollow. Little heed was paid to pre-budget submission requests that had hoped for an overall, long-lasting reduction in the student contribution charge, allowing government bodies to bypass the longer-term financial struggles faced by so many.
While €250 will certainly make a dent in student’s yearly fee payments, the impact is short-lived and inevitably somewhat hollow
By the same token, student services are bereft of funding across many sectors, with mental-health services seeing a surge in applications in recent months. Young people are disillusioned with their schoolwork, isolated from their social circles, facing a future of mounting financial and employment instability. Across many universities, and certainly within the walls of Trinity, there is simply a complete service deficiency to cater for these students, with little to no attention to being placed on this paucity. While this €50 million in funding may not have been an instant-fix for a section of university facilities that have been long-ignored, the longevity of its positive impact on young people’s lives would certainly have been greater maintained should they have received it.
For many students, this grant will err on the side of performative action by the government. Although few will neglect to take up on the offer, the €250 contribution bursary has not succeeded in pulling the wool over the ever-vocal student population’s eyes, and many remain incandescent about the emerging pattern of neglect of systemic change to higher education. As mental health services remain in dire straits across many campuses, students continue to demand greater investment in plans for green campus infrastructure, along with an outright dismissal of outcries by the Technological Higher Education Association (THEA).
While this grant and Budget 2021 may have altogether been a move in the right direction for greater attentiveness to higher education, lobby groups and student activists have found themselves growing ever more disillusioned by short-term solutions to years-long problems.
Longterm, effective systems must be put in place to aptly acknowledge the true repercussions this virus has had on the financial security of a vast number of students, while disingenuous and simply hollow activism must no longer find itself at the centre of governmental aid.
For third-level funding, these systemic barriers are growing evermore perennial, and it is the students themselves who are bearing the burden of this long-standing desuetude for decades to come.