Cutting Student Grants Is Dumb

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This morning I was listening to the news on RTE radio, as I do most weekday mornings. I was shocked to hear that our "beloved" government is considering slashing  3rd level grants. (Oddly the article I linked to suggests that the grants currently aren't means tested - they were when I had one)

I attended the University of Limerick between 1994 and 1998 as an undergraduate. If I hadn't been on a maintenance grant I wouldn't have been able to afford it and the grant did NOT cover my costs, though it obviously helped.

Back then the full maintenance grant for the year was around £1500 (EUR1,904.61 ) for the year. It hasn't gone up much. It's been nearly twenty years since I started in UL, but the grant has only gone up 33% in that time.

The current maintenance grant is just over 3000 Euro per academic year, which is paid in instalments. Assuming that you need to be on campus from late September until June, approximately 9 months, then you have:

3000/9 = 333 Euro / month

That's just over 300 Euro a month to pay for rent, food and everything else. Depending on which 3rd level institution you're attending and their academic year you might be able to tweak those numbers in your favour a bit, but not much ..

Checking Daft.ie for rental prices near the University of Limerick, which would be a lot cheaper than rents in Dublin or Cork, the cost per month seems to average out at around 250 / month sharing.

So if you're only getting 333 Euro / month, then you'd be left with about 80 Euro / month, or about 20 Euro / week for food and everything else.

I've no idea how much the average student spends on food per week these days, but when I was in college I usually had breakfast at home, lunch on campus and dinner at home. Lunch on campus was sometimes in one of the restaurants and cafes on the campus, though sometimes I brought a packed lunch. Depending on your timetable and your extra-curricular activities, combined with how far from the campus you ended up living, going home to eat in the evening wasn't always an option.

So let's assume that you can, somehow, survive on about 50 Euro / week for food.. that's 200 Euro / month or 1800 Euro for the full academic year.

Now let's go back and look at the table of salaries etc., that they use to decide if you even qualify for the full amount.

In order to get the full maintenance grant at the moment you, or your parents, salary would need to be under 40k per year. 40k per year if you've got dependents and a mortgage isn't a lot of money ..

While I can appreciate that the government needs to make cuts in spending, I'm not sure that hitting economically challenged students is the way to do it.

I've always thought that the introduction of "free" college fees back in the mid-1990s was a really bad idea, as it didn't benefit those of us at the lower end of the economic spectrum. We already got our fees covered.

How much are the "free" fees costing the government?

How much are other allowances costing the state?

Why aren't more of them means tested?

How much abuse is there?

I don't have the answers to a lot of these questions, but cutting maintenance grants would be a really bad idea.

Successive Irish governments like to talk about our "knowledge economy" and attract foreign investment due in no little part to a combination of fiscal benefits and a well educated workforce. If maintenance grants were cut then the poorer echelons of society would be impacted. Would that benefit us long-term? I'd say no. And we, as a country, need to think long-term.

 

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