PARENTS of college-going children are facing a double-whammy on the cost of funding third-level education.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is considering a cut to the student grant in October's Budget – on top of the planned €750 rise in college registration fees over the next three years.
The costs for struggling families trying to put their children through third-level are set to rise on two fronts as the Government aims to slash €100m from the education budget.
The move comes as a record number of college offers will be made today, with the publication of the CAO's First Round.
As 49,837 college hopefuls receive their offers, a big bounce-back for business degrees is one of the striking features of the third-level applications.
School-leavers chasing jobs in the new economy have driven up points for college entry for science, engineering, technology and business.
But college lecturers warned of the damage to the standard of third-level education being inflicted by continued government cuts.
In stark contrast to the Government's denials of a pension cut a week earlier, nobody in the Coalition denied the college grant cut was on the table yesterday.
The new twin-pronged attack on both grants and fees means parents will be hit either way, whether they are entitled to a grant or not. And some parents will be hit by both cuts.
The college grant is paid to about 100,000 students each year and is worth up to €3,025.
Although students who get the full grant get the capitation cost covered by the State, parents may be eligible for a full (100pc) or part (50pc) grant in respect of the student contribution charge, depending on their level of reckonable income.
Therefore, some parents will be hit on the double by the Coalition's cuts. Either way, the costs for parents of sending their children to college is poised to rise.
The college grant cut is one of a range of options being considered as Mr Quinn faces making cuts of €100m.
They also include potential cuts to teacher numbers, closing small schools and cuts to supports for special needs pupils.
The hiking of the registration fee has already been announced. Despite the minister's personal pre-election commitment of no fees, the student contribution will rise by €250 each year for the next three years. By 2015, the registration charge will have risen to €3,000.
Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin said the increase was necessary "to help maintain higher education services at a time when the Exchequer is severely constrained".
But the cost of college has already risen sharply. Recent research by the Irish League of Credit Unions revealed the monthly cost of college is now €516 to cover daily expenses such as food, travel, books, clothing and phone calls.
Adding in rent and utility bills takes the monthly total to €950, and eight out of 10 parents now contribute to help their children.
The union representing college lecturers said Mr Quinn's cuts risk "delivering a fatal blow to third-level education". Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) general secretary Mike Jennings said a reported cut of up to 5pc on third-level education in the Budget would be "disastrous for universities, students and the economy".
"Does the minister intend to deliver what could be the fatal blow to our third-level institutions and their ability to continue delivering education of the highest standards?" he said.
The Union of Students in Ireland promised to campaign against the "threat to slash student grants". USI president Joe O'Connor said: "The Government and Mr Quinn must be aware students will not take this lying down, and will take their opposition to the streets, to constituency offices and to the ballot box."
The Department of Education said it must find savings of around €100m in the Budget.
"All options have to be considered. The minister will seek to protect frontline services and special needs provisions during this time," a spokesperson said.
Cuts at third-level will affect tens of thousands of students – it has been another record year for CAO offers, with a total of 57,627 made to date. These figures include mature applicants and students entering third-level via further education.
The surge in points for business courses comes against a downturn for courses leading to careers in traditional public service jobs such as teaching and some healthcare professions.
Another notable trend is a widespread rise in points for courses that include the study of foreign languages – one of the key skills increasingly sought by employers.
By Katherine Donnelly and Fionnan Sheahan
View CAO first round offers here (PDF):
Level 8 points page 1
Level 8 points page 2
Level 8 points page 3
Level 8 points page 4
Level 7-6 points page 1
Level 7-6 points page 2