Thursday 19 September 2019

FG is slammed for 'let them eat cake' attitude to grants and rental costs

Under fire: Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Under fire: Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

The Government has been heavily criticised for suggesting students should use their Susi grant to cover the cost of accommodation, or go to regional colleges.

Fianna Fáil accused Fine Gael of having a "let them eat cake" attitude to higher education costs facing families, as Leaving Cert students receive their first round CAO offers today.

Comments by Education Minister Joe McHugh and the Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor on Tuesday were also criticised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI)

Ms Mitchell O'Connor's suggestion student grants be used to cover accommodation costs was dismissed by Fianna Fáil.

"Minister Mitchell O'Connor's 'let them eat cake' comments are typical of the Fine Gael Government," education spokesman Thomas Byrne said. It's also emerged the amount of Exchequer funding for student support and related expenses, including Susi, is expected to fall from €407m in 2018 to €404m this year.

"Instead of increasing the thresholds for Susi grants which might give relief to middle-income families, the Government cut its projected overall spend on Susi for 2019," Mr Byrne added.

"With more students going to college than ever before, in real terms this means fewer students getting grants,"

A spokeswoman for Ms Mitchell O'Connor described Mr Byrne's comments as "very disingenuous".

"This Government has invested nearly €2bn into higher education. The establishment of technological universities are not the actions of a reactive department," she said.

The USI's Craig McHugh said the income thresholds for the Susi grant system had not been changed in nearly a decade and the average payout amounted to €336 per month.

"If you think the Susi grant is going to cover rent you've quite a task on your hands. There is nothing to dip into, it doesn't cover rent and the cost of going to college, and is not reflective of the reality," he said.

At present, the Department of Education has no plans to examine the thresholds.

Housing charity Threshold said students would be "hard pressed" to afford college rent on-campus or in halls.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor told RTÉ last night the grant was "never intended to cover the whole cost of college".

Meanwhile, Joe McHugh's suggestion on Tuesday that regional colleges could be an option for students whose families cannot afford to send them to university has also drawn criticism. Labour senator Aodhan Ó Ríordáin led calls for Mr McHugh to withdraw the remarks.

Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said: "The attitude coming from Fine Gael is very transparent: higher education is not a right, it is a privilege, primarily for those coming from a higher income background."

The minister's spokesman insisted Mr McHugh "was reflecting how there is now more choice than ever before for students, especially the variety and quality of courses in colleges around the country [and] options for students who didn't get the grades."

Irish Independent

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