Opposition offers no comfort to furious students
FINE Gael and Labour -- set to form the next government -- were last night unable to give a commitment to students they would reverse grant cuts in this week's Budget.
The Union of Students in Ireland is furious over the change which it claims will force many to drop out of college.
Student union leaders from around the country will meet next Saturday to plan a campaign of protest against the grant changes, as well as the €500 increase in registration charges.
They yesterday contacted opposition parties seeking support in reversing or easing the grants' decision.
Fine Gael and Labour promised to look at it again if they get into Government -- but did not give any guarantees.
"Obviously, I can't make any definite promise at this stage but it is something we could look at as the effects will be disproportionate on students attending colleges outside Dublin where the road and transport links may not be as good," Fine Gael education spokesperson Fergus O'Dowd said.
Anger is mounting over drastic cuts in grants for 25,000 students who will lose €1,700 each on average from next September.
The students will be forced onto lower grants because they live less than 45km from college.
Until now they got the higher 'non-adjacent' grant which kicked in at 24km from college.
"The change means a 90km exclusion zone around colleges," Labour education spokesperson Ruairi Quinn said. He described it as a "booby trap for the next government which is primed and ready to detonate next summer" when the revised grant rules for college are issued.
For some students, who are currently on the maximum grant, the loss will be over €3,000.
The Government estimates the changes will save €43m in a full year.
One of those worst affected is mature student Theo Ingham (42), from Carrowholly, Westport, Co Mayo, who attends the Galway-Mayo IT campus in Castlebar. After his small construction firm folded, he enrolled in college to better his job prospects.
"I'm in my second year but this is going to me it difficult for me to finish my course," said Mr Ingham who stands to lose just over €3,000 next year.