Friday 22 November 2019

Points race no longer the only barrier in getting to college

CAO points are no longer the only barrier in getting to college as accommodation costs increase
CAO points are no longer the only barrier in getting to college as accommodation costs increase

Kevin Donoghue

Anyone preparing either themselves or their children for college will be aware there is a shortage of student accommodation, particularly in Dublin, Cork and Galway.

It used to be the case that the difficult part was securing enough points in the Leaving Certificate. Increasing costs and lack of availability are forcing pupils to consider where they can afford accommodation and worry about the course afterwards.

An Irish League of Credit Union study shows that the percentage of students living at home increased from 44pc in 2013 to 62pc two years later. Meanwhile, there has also been a notable increase in those qualifying for the non-adjacent grant rate - those living more than 45km from their college.

The lack of quality, affordable accommodation is being targeted by students' unions and college accommodation offices throughout the country, primarily through the promotion of digs via the "rent-a-room" relief scheme, offering a tax-free income of €12,000 to homeowners and a mild alleviation of pressure on the private rental market.

Students' unions are campaigning for a more long-term solution to the issue.

They demand more purpose-built student accommodation and an increase in student supports to address the issue in the long and medium terms.

The shortage intersects with a more serious problem. Irish families are being pushed to the edge to pay for college.

Almost two-thirds (59pc) of parents will borrow to fund their child's education, with the average borrowing more than €5,000 per child per year. The contribution fee, hiked by €250 every year for the last four years, now stands at €3,000.

Supports like the student assistance fund and grants, particularly for postgraduates, have been slashed. The cost of college goes well beyond the student contribution fee.

More worryingly, there are those who want to drastically increase the cost of college.

Proponents of a fees and loans scheme bemoan the lack of funding in the sector and promote a "free at the point of access" system that could address the issue once and for all.

What doesn't factor into the conversation often enough is that a fees and loans system leads inevitably to massively increased fees. This heaps debt on students and parents, who may need to guarantee such loans.

England and Wales went from £4,000 (€5,500) loans for your degree in 1997 to loans in excess of £50,000 (€69,000) today.

We have to house our students, diversify our student population and ensure the most vulnerable in society are not pushed out of education due to the rising cost of college.

Kevin Donoghue is President of the Union of Students in Ireland

Irish Independent

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