THE cumulative effect of the past two Budgets will have serious implications for the youth of Ireland. A student, who was lucky enough to qualify for a grant faced a three per cent reduction in the value of the maintenance grant as a consequence of Budget 2012.
The grant payable to those living away from home dropped to €3,027 while the grant payable to students living at home was reduced to €1,211. But because of an insidious change in the distance criterion - distance from home to college - thousands of students now qualify only for the lower grant thereby losing out on about €1,800 per annum. Grant recipients who live within 45km (formerly 24km) of their college now qualify only for the smaller or 'adjacent grant' of €1,211. This was a furtive and shameful adjustment, which is forcing thousands of young people to quit college and will prevent thousands more from ever getting to college.
Budget 2013 has added insult to injury by imposing cuts up to €1,500 each in grant support in the next academic year on about 6,000 students after cuts to the qualifying income limits. A further 5,000 grant recipients will lose amounts ranging from €300 upward, depending on the level of support they qualified for this year and how far they live from college. The losses are the result of a three per cent cut to the family incomes below which grants are payable. It will see the gross income levels for grant eligibility reduce from €41,110 to €39,875.
Families on the financial margins, who depend on grant aid, will be totally devastated by these punitive cuts. Coming on top of the fiasco with the SUSI online student grant system, which has left thousands of students waiting on vital financial aid, this is a cruel and heartless blow. Consequently, the 40 per cent of students who qualify for maintenance grants next year will receive a smaller amount of money than students did as far back as 2007 despite the considerable increase in the cost of higher education. In addition, the means testing of applicants for grants is now so restrictive that 60 out of every 100 students in higher education do not qualify for any financial aid.
Despite signing a pre-election pledge in a blaze of publicity not to increase the student contribution, Minister Quinn implemented an increase of €500 in 2011 and a further increase of €250 in 2012. Budget 2013 has sanctioned yet another increase of €250 in the student contribution for the 2013/2014 academic year. So, after a mere two years in office, Minister Quinn has sanctioned an increase in the student contribution from €1,500 to €2,500, a shocking and unprecedented increase of 67 per cent.
With little or nothing being done to stimulate employment during the last few years, unemployment levels have soared to 15 per cent or 450,000 individuals - of whom 150,000 are under 23 years of age. About 75,000 people are forced to leave the country each year, half of whom are between 18 and 23 years of age. Dickensian Education Budgets will deprive many worthy young people of the right to a third level education even before they are forced to emigrate. The changes will result in a modest annual saving for the Government but at the immeasurable loss of our best resource, our young people.