Student Contribution Puts Pressure On Families

Ireland once took pride in providing free third-level education – unlike across the pond in the United States, where, unless you are lucky enough to come from a wealthy family, or are awarded a scholarship, you can expect to finish university thousands of dollars in debt. 

But since the early 2000s, a new fee has slowly been introduced into the third-level tier of education. The student contribution fee now stands at €3,000 per annum for an undergraduate student. While this is a fraction of the cost faced by students who do not qualify under the free fees scheme, for struggling families, it can still mean the difference between sending a child to Third-Level education or not. 

While a rebate of €250 was promised to third-level students in the budget, details have yet to be announced. The Department of Education had previously dismissed the possibility of a reduction in the student contribution fee for this academic year which would alleviate pressure on students and families already struggling with the economic fallout from COVID-19. 

“We are dealing with an increase in queries, a lot of interest in the laptop scheme and financial services,” TU Dublin students union president Rebecca Gorman told The Liberty.  “We are advocating for a reduction of fees, but that must be set by the Department of Education.”  

In response to an increase in students dealing with financial difficulties due to the global pandemic, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) has launched a fund to help students transition to online learning. The fund provides students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds access to a laptop to use while studying and attending online lectures from home. 

However, Gorman said that the demand far outstrips the funding available and she is worried that some students will be left behind. The fund also doesn’t do anything to address other costs such as access to the internet, accommodation or transport fees for students who are still on campus on a reduced schedule. 

When talking about the student contribution fund, Gorman raised the issue of transparency and the lack of easily available information as to where that money is spent. 

“In regards to the money, €505 of that goes towards student services and the students union, the rest is spent on registration, exams, things like that,” Gorman said.  

However, Gorman also hit out at the lack of transparency as to what exactly that money is spent on. “It’s your money, you should know how it’s spent,” she said. 

In response to queries by The Liberty, TU Dublin said that the remaining €2,495 of the student contribution fund goes towards “Student Registration, Exam Costs, Library, preparation for graduations and general Academic Administration activities”.  

TU Dublin are reporting higher running costs this year for the maintenance of practical modules and online learning support. They state that “these activities attract the bulk of class material and equipment costs”. 

The Union of Students Ireland (USI) recently launched a new campaign for reform of the cost of third-level education. The Education for All pledge was launched in early September and asks public figures to pledge a reduction in cost for young people attending college.  

Craig McHugh, USI Vice President for campaigns, has called it a “long term project for reducing the cost of education for people in Ireland”. 

McHugh has said that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the high cost of third-level education, but the underlying issues have been there for the past decade. 

With Ireland in the middle of increased Covid-19 restrictions, and with many more people set to lose their jobs as essential businesses are forced to close, the financial pressure on students and families is only set to increase.