Should grants increase to keep up with rising living expenses?
Ailbhe believes grants should be increased to help students to keep up with constantly growing living expenses
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"Society has told us that college is a necessity, yet have priced it as a luxury that very few can afford"
With the rising cost of rent and living across the country, I believe that student grants and financial help should also be raised to make sure students have the best possible chance of successfully completing college.
What grants are available for students?
There are a few places you can look which provide grants for students. The main one is SUSI, which contributes to all costs which you may incur while going to college, including the fees. Some other special grants are available, such as HEAR and DARE as additional help with costs which may occur, such as books, rent, etc. Other grants like BTEA are available for returning to education.
To be eligible for any of these grants, you need to be thoroughly assessed and meet a lot of criteria. As the largest grant provider in Ireland, SUSI requires very detailed and extensive information about you and your family (if you are considered a dependent). SUSI determines how much of the grant you are eligible for based on your family income - that includes the income of everyone in your family, including you. Not just your parents. Depending on this amount, you will be awarded all of, or some of the grant.
With the average rent in Dublin already extremely high and rising fast and in the midst of a national rent and homelessness crisis, I believe that the level of grant awarded should be raised to help with the increasing costs, and that all students should be allocated some form of financial help. A lot of us are trying to become independent, and relying on our parents for money makes this an impossible task.
As an undergraduate, I was awarded the full fee payment and maintenance grant because my family income was under the lowest threshold and I was going to a college more than 45 kilometres from my home address. This means that I qualified for the highest rate of help possible from SUSI for someone going into college. While this massively helped with having the fees paid, I wonder about those who passed the household income limit and did not qualify for the fee payment. Not only do students in those situations have to pay over €3,000 in fees per year for the next three years, which they may not have, but they have to somehow pay rent and bills with a maintenance grant (if they qualified for it on it’s own) that doesn’t cover it.
Rents and living expenses with help
I was given €336.11 on the dot each month from SUSI, for nine months. This meant I had €3025 to live off for nine months, which was meant to cover my rent, bills, transport, food, medical expenses and such. While I was grateful for whatever help I got, it was nowhere near enough to cover what I needed, and this was before the rent crisis even began.
Now, your average rent for a box room in Dublin is about €550 a month. Unless you’re willing to commute long distances by bus or train from surrounding areas such as Kildare, but even still, you’re looking at about €350 to €400 a month minimum for anywhere relatively livable in a shared house. The rate of the maintenance grant is still the same as when I qualified for it, meaning it is still only €336.11 a month for those who qualify for the full maintenance. There is also a special rate of maintenance grant which can get you up to €657.22 per month if you meet the criteria. This either doesn’t, or barely just covers rent. While I agree with students working part-time while they’re studying is a great way for them to learn good time management and have some money of their own to save, I don’t agree with them having to work so many hours at a minimum wage that negatively affects their education just to be able to afford to live.
We, as students, are aware that the world does not owe us anything. But for years, society has been telling us that college is a necessity, and now that we’re here with desires to attend, it’s priced as a luxury that very few of us can afford without help. It’s not that we’re lazy and don’t want to work. Most of us have worked what hours we could while giving ourselves time to study for the Leaving Certificate, and work full-time in the summer. But it is still nearly impossible to raise the money we would now need to last us a year of education with living costs while paying thousands in fees.
Working full-time during college is also impossible unless you skip lectures. If we rely on the grant to help us with at least the fees, we need to meet the requirements for this and one of the requirements is that the course must be full-time. So being in college full-time, Monday to Friday, with enough time to do recommended readings, assignments and project work makes being able to work more than 20 hours a week on the weekends unlikely. And even so if you can manage to take up two, ten hour shifts a week, you get no time to unwind and relax which is detrimental to your mental health.
My argument isn’t that students should get everything handed to them and have an easy ride. Just that our grades and college attendance should not have to suffer to take time out to stay out of debt. This debt isn’t from going wild and taking trips every week - it’s simply from being able to afford to feed ourselves properly and pay for heating. With a changing society, the help available to students should be increasing enough to allow us to be able to live comfortably with that help plus a part-time wage.