Third-level charge to rocket
Middle class will bear brunt as economic crisis forces registration fees up
THE middle class will be hit hard when student registration charges for higher education rocket next year.
Charges jumped from €900 to €1,500 last year and a further substantial rise is on the cards.
The money is used for registration, exams and support services such as careers advice.
The only ones to escape the full brunt will be those on means-tested higher education grants -- whose numbers are rising rapidly because of the recession. Figures show that students from low-income families, farming backgrounds and the self-employed are the main beneficiaries of grants.
A massive street protest is planned for tomorrow week in Dublin by the Union of Students in Ireland. It says the charges have risen by 689pc since 1995 from €190 to €1,500.
Although ministers were initially reluctant to jack up the charges again after last year, the scale of the financial crisis is so great that a substantial increase is now seen as inevitable.
Sources said a moderate rise of a few hundred euro would be of little benefit as the percentage of students paying was contracting while there was an increase in the numbers on grants who avoided the charges. The rise in registration charges will be accompanied by a cut in funding for higher education.
Five years ago, just over 57,500 students were on grants but the figure jumped to almost 70,000 last year and is well over that this year.
Some local authorities report a 25pc increase in applications for grants this year which would mean that virtually half the full-time student population in higher education will be on grants. There are 66 local authorities and Vocational Education Committees involved in processing grant applications and the final number of successful applicants for the current academic year may not be known until January.
Full-time and part-time maintenance grants are awarded on the basis of the number of children in a family and the family income. To qualify for a full grant of €3,250, the annual family income has to be below €41,110. A quarter of the maintenance grant is awarded where there are fewer than four children and the family income is less than €51,380.
The value of maintenance grants last year was cut by 5pc and USI president Gary Redmond said that thousands of students were heavily reliant on financial assistance in the downturn. "Additional cuts over the 5pc announced in Budget 2010 would simply end their third-level education," he warned.
Despite the expected rise in service charges, an increase is expected in the number of students from the UK where the cost of higher education is already high and about to soar further due to a combination of cuts and increases in tuition fees.
UK Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is responsible for universities, said that he was considering allowing fees to rise to £7,000 (€8,000), around double the present fee.