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Financial supports for college students in Ireland

There are a number of schemes available to students who need financial support while studying


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in education


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This article was developed in partnership with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).

Going to college can be expensive. College fees, books, accommodation or commuting costs, groceries, and social activities can all add up. Facing financial pressure can be a big barrier for many people who want to go to college, and it can cause a lot of stress for existing students.

Students who have lost their job due to COVID-19 can apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

If you’re worried that you can’t afford to go to college, there are supports out there to help students.

Grants and fee initiatives for students in Ireland

You may be eligible for one or some of these supports:

Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant

The SUSI grant is available to those who want to go to college but may need some financial assistance in order to get there. There are two types of student grants for undergraduate study available through SUSI. These are maintenance grants and fee grants. The maintenance grant contributes towards a student's living costs while they are at college, including their college fees and support with accommodation and other costs. The fee grant will cover all or part of the student contribution and costs of essential field trips. 

Grants are means tested based on your parents' income, and if you work (legally and paying tax) during the summer or while studying, this income will also be counted when you apply for a grant. This means that how much you receive depends on this income. 

SUSI have confirmed that they will be taking changes in family circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic into consideration when assessing grants for the 2020/21 academic year.

Find out more about the SUSI grant, how to apply, and how to qualify for a grant

Free Fees Initiative

Most undergraduate students in Ireland already qualify for free fees (this is separate to the Student Contribution Charge, which can be covered by SUSI). If you are told to pay these fees, you can ask your college or university if you qualify for the free fees initiative. If you would like to apply, speak to a student advisor at your college.

The initiative is open to:

  • Students from Ireland, the EU, EEA, Swiss State, and United Kingdom
  • Students with official refugee status
  • Family members of a refugee with permission to live in Ireland
  • Students with Permission to Remain
  • Students with Humanitarian Leave to Remain in Ireland

Find out more about the Free Fees Initiative and how to apply.

While the initiative covers the cost of student tuition fees, there is still a student contribution charge of €3,000 that needs to be paid. You can apply for a SUSI student grant, if you are eligible, to cover this cost.

More financial assistance schemes for students in Ireland

Outside of the SUSI grant, there are some other options available:

The Student Assistance Fund

The Student Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for full-time higher education students who are having money problems while attending college. This fund has been doubled following the COVID-19 pandemic to make sure it can help as many students as possible during this time.

The fund covers things like:

  • Books and class materials
  • Rent, heating and lighting bills
  • Food
  • Medical expenses, i.e. doctor or dental visits
  • Childcare
  • The cost of essential or urgent travel
  • The cost of study abroad if it is a compulsory part of your course
  • Expenses associated with family breakdown, bereavement, or accidents

You can apply for the Student Assistance Fund in your college or university. Find out more about the Student Assistance Fund and how to apply.

Find a list of participating colleges here.

Accessing laptops and technology

Colleges and universities across Ireland have been given laptops by the Government to loan to students who cannot afford to buy one of their own. Students who need access to a laptop for their course, but who are unable to buy one, can apply for a laptop through their college's access office.

Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD)

The Fund for Students with Disabilities is there to assist students with disabilities to be able to participate in college and have the access they need. The fund can cover things such as:

  • Assistive technology equipment and software (including student training)
  • Non-medical helpers (e.g. personal assistants, notetakers)
  • Academic/learning support
  • Deaf supports (sign language interpreters, speedtext)
  • Transport support

Find out more about the Fund for Students with Disabilities and participating colleges.

Back to Education Allowance

The Back to Education Allowance gives people who missed out of the opportunity to go to college earlier in life the financial support to go now. If you're over 21 and either unemployed, parenting alone, or you have a disability, and you receive certain payments from the Department of Social Protection, then you could be eligible for the Back to Education Allowance. Find out about the Back to Education Allowance and how to qualify.

Bursaries for students in Ireland

Bursaries are similar to grants, in that they provide financial assistance to support students from certain backgrounds to go to college.

1916 Bursary Fund

The 1916 Bursary Fund is part of the Programme for Access To Higher Education (PATH). The aim of the funding is to encourage students who would not normally go to higher education to take the opportunity to do so. However, it’s important to be aware that there are a limited amount of bursaries available in each Higher Education Institute (colleges or universities).

The bursary is €5,000 per year and available to people who are economically disadvantaged and from one of the following groups:

  • People from socio-economic backgrounds who have low participation in higher education
  • First-time mature students
  • Students with a disability
  • Irish Travellers
  • Students who have received a further education award
  • Lone parents receiving a social welfare payment
  • Ethnic minorities

Students must also be receiving a means-tested social welfare payment and/or be eligible for the SUSI special rate grant.

Find out more about the 1916 Bursary Fund and the participating colleges.

Society of St Vincent de Paul Education and Training Bursary Fund

The Society of St Vincent de Paul Education and Training Bursary Fund supports students of all ages who may financially struggle to access or stay in third level education and training programmes. 

Scholarships in Ireland

There are a number of scholarships available to students in Ireland. These scholarships can help with some or all of the cost of going to college. Some scholarships are available based on a student’s backgrounds, while others are there to encourage students to go into certain fields of study, such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

A lot of different organisations offer scholarships, so it’s a good idea to do some research. You can find a list of scholarships available in Ireland here, but there are more that are not included in this list, so it is advised that you contact your preferred course department for further information on scholarships.

Need more information?

Would you like more information? Maybe you would like to talk through your own situation? Get in touch through our online chat system for 16 to 25 year olds - Monday to Friday 4pm to 8pm.

Feeling overwhelmed or want to talk to someone right now?

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Published August 13th2020
Last updated Sep­tem­ber 18th2020
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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