Paying the price for an education
As increasing numbers of college students rely on financial support from parents, Celine Naughton looks at the case for and against part-time jobs
Irish parents are being pushed to the limit as today's millennials increasingly turn to the bank of mum and dad to get them through college. According to the recent Eurostudent VI study, 42pc of third level students now rely on financial support from their parents, compared with just 28pc five years ago.
The trend has been hailed by many as a sign of an economic upturn - with parents now seemingly having greater means to support their kids through third-level education, fewer students have to hold down part-time jobs to fund their education.
However, almost half of higher education students work part-time and over a third say they're experiencing "severe financial problems". Shannon Fogerty (22), from Galway, is a final year student of TV, Radio and New Media Broadcasting at Tralee IT. She drives home every weekend where she works 14 hours in Galway Bay FM.
"When I graduate, I've been told I have a full-time job waiting for me, which is brilliant. I previously worked on a show called Molly In The Morning and loved it. I work on reception now, but can't wait to get back to broadcasting," she says.
"Meanwhile, I'm scraping to get by. I pay my own rent of €380 a month and I don't like borrowing from my parents, but sometimes I have to ask them to help me out, mostly for petrol and food.
"I quit drinking, but going out is still expensive. Even a night at the cinema means scraping pennies together. I took out a student loan, which will take a few years to pay off, but I have a job lined up after graduation, so I'm one of the lucky ones."
Anita Gray (33) is in her third of a four-year Geography and Sociology degree course at Trinity College Dublin. She and her seven-year-old daughter, Aoife, live with Anita's parents in Coolock.
"I want this degree in order to give myself and my daughter a better future," she says. "I got a credit union scholarship for the first year, then took out a loan to pay fees for the remaining years.
"I work in a petrol station Saturdays and Sundays. During the week I'm at lectures and studying, and I spend as much time with Aoife as possible.
"My sister collects her from school. Dad, a baker who finishes work in the early afternoon, looks after her til I'm home, and at the weekend my mum takes care of her while I'm at work.
"Once I graduate, I hope to work in teaching or research. I'd love to do a master's, but that would cost about €20,000, so it may not be feasible, and I don't know if I'd even get a loan to do it. As it is, I'll be leaving college with a debt of about €9,000, which will take some years to pay off."
She adds: "I'm very grateful to my parents for all they've done for me, but I want to get a good job so I can buy a place of my own and build an independent life for myself and Aoife."
For students whose parents don't live close to college, accommodation costs are at risk of pricing some out of a third level education, according to Michael Kerrigan, President of the Union of Students in Ireland.
"We see students sleeping on couches and even in cars just to get through the four or five years it takes to get a third level qualification, and the heartbreaking thing is, they're not guaranteed a job at the end of it," he says.
"Ireland's registration fees of €3,000 are the second highest in Europe and eighth highest in the world. Every year, costs go up while student supports are reduced. The larger cities and university towns have seen rental costs go through the roof in recent times, car insurance is at a premium, public transport is expensive, and most students don't live within an easy commute of college."
The Eurostudent report found that students of technology institutes were more likely to struggle financially than those in university. Of 3,700 full-time students in Sligo IT (SIT), 61pc receive grants from Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) and 300 a year apply for Student Assistance Funds (SAF), with an average payment of €600.
"We run an instalment scheme so students can spread the cost of their registration fee over the year," says Gerry Hegarty, SIT Student Affairs Manager. "It's a gesture that acknowledges the difficulties faced by our students. Local businesses row in too. Aldi collects students by bus each Monday at 6pm to bring them to the store for their weekly shop, and drops them back to campus."
But for some students, finding ways to bring home the bacon is a challenge that weighs heavy on their minds.
"In recent years there has been increased pressure on our counselling services and there's no doubt that some of the anxiety, depression and stress that students are experiencing is due to financial pressure," says Gerry. "What should be a happy, carefree time at college is overshadowed by money worries."
Aishling O'Toole, Retention Officer with Waterford IT, urges students to contact the support services in their college.
"A combination of counselling and practical interventions can help ease the financial problem and the stress that goes with it," she says.
With rent accounting for the biggest chunk of spending, it can also bring the biggest stress. And according to the national housing charity Threshold, it's not just the cost, but the quality of accommodation that often leaves much to be desired about student lodgings.
"Most students have to share rooms, even with people they don't know, because it's all they can afford," says Edel Conlon of Threshold Southern Regional Services.
"Dampness, draughts, lack of facilities - there may be up to eight people in a house with only one small fridge, for example - inadequate heating, and lack of ventilation are common complaints.
"We've linked with UCC to let students know what their rights are and that we're here if they need our advice."
Whether they're struggling to make ends meet or have cash to splash, Celine Geraghty, Financial Administrator, Student Support and Development at DCU, encourages all students to manage their resources wisely.
"Most of our students work part-time and I think it's a very positive thing," she says. "It builds skills and life experience, enhances a CV, and you can work extra hours in summer to save for term time.
"I tell all students, whether you have €10 or €100 a week to spend, plan a budget, keep a close eye on it and be savvy with your spending. Look for student discounts and use your skills to earn extra money through grinds or music lessons, for instance. Whatever you do, don't ignore your finances."