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Where has Budget 2022 Left Third-Level Students?

By Orla Leahy, News Editor 

The Irish Universities Association (IUA) released a statement on the Budget 2022 which highlighted that though “welcome, is not sufficient to address the core funding deficit in the sector.” 

The Government has invested €9.2 billion in “continuing investment in our education system,” according to their Report, “Main Features of Budget 2022.” Overall, €3.7 billion has been invested in third-level education. 

Despite such significant investment overall, IUA have highlighted the fact that there is a lack of investment in teaching and research opportunities for 2022. Instead, a “substantial part of the package will be used to ‘strengthen the financial position of universities’ in 2021 and 2022 by providing for long-standing sectoral pension deficits.” While third level balance sheets welcome this positive development, IUA Chair and President of NUI Galway, Professor Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, noted that research and innovation are “increasingly cited as our remaining social and economic advantage,” in the face of diminishing corporate tax advantages. Accordingly, he stated that “given its importance for our tomorrow, it is very disappointing that investment in research and innovation, acknowledged being well behind our key competitors, has not been prioritised [in Budget 2022].”

On another note, changes to the Student Grant Scheme, SUSI have been included in the budget. Citizens information has summarised the alterations. “The student maintenance grant will increase by €200. The income thresholds for eligibility for the student grant will increase by €1000. The travel distance for the ‘non-adjacent rate will decrease to 30 km from 45 km.” 

Last year, 79 000 students availed themselves of State-funded SUSI grants, which was 7% lower than in 2015. The grants failed to keep pace with inflation and increases in the cost of living, deeming fewer students eligible. However, this number will rise in the next academic year, as for the first time in a decade, the thresholds have increased. 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President, Clare Austick, has welcomed the increase, stating that “there is a long way to go to get us back to the grant being in line with the cost of living.”

Another positive addition for students in the budget includes a 50% reduction in public transport costs for students between the ages of 19-23 with the introduction of a new travel card. 

Unfortunately, the budget failed to deal with the current accommodation crisis faced by third-level students. Austick drew attention to the fact that “places in third-level institutions have been increased by 3,300 without any action on student accommodation, so we have no idea where these students will live – they will most likely be added to the waiting lists for student accommodation.”

Addressing Dáil Éireann, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath claimed that the package for higher and further education and training is an acknowledgement of “the key role the sectors play in our economy and society”.

Minister for Education, Simon Harris, stated that “[the government] are committed to investing in the future and the sustainability of higher education – we have really significant teaching, learning, research and development capacity in our education institutions that can make a big difference in people’s lives, and it’s vital that we support that.” Overall in Budget 2022, changes to better support students financially, such as the increased grant, and the reduced travel expenses, are indicative of such investment, but it is clear that further investment is needed, particularly in research, innovation, and accommodation as highlighted by the IUA and the USI.