The education system has been severely affected by the pandemic, forcing us to re-examine the current state of education in Ireland.  It is clear 2021 is to be a year of reconsidering. Reconsidering the way we live and the changes that could be made.

On the 25th of March, The people before profit party proposed a bill that set out to remove barriers to higher education by abolishing third-level fees for students in Ireland.  It was put to the Oireachtas and widely supported by the USI.  This bill had the possibility of making education in Ireland accessible to all, especially to students from low-income families.   However, last month the government voted against the motion.

Ireland at present has a free fees system in place, whereby the government provides the funding for tuition fees while students pay a contribution to the university which covers services and examinations.  The maximum rate of the student contribution for the academic year 2021-2022 is €3,000.  Despite this reduced rate for University costs, Ireland continues to have the highest fees in the EU when it comes to higher education. 

Since 2012 this contribution fee has been alleviated for many by the SUSI grant system which is in place to provide financial support to students who meet the means-tested eligibility requirements. This system is outdated and often many students seriously struggling financially are unable to meet the criteria set to receive a grant. Fortunately, this year the government has committed to a review of the Student Grant system. This review will include examining the value of the maintenance grants and income thresholds, the availability of grants for part-time students supports for postgraduates and how Ireland compares against other jurisdictions.

In addition to the 2021 review,  the government has reduced the contribution fee by €250 due to the effects of the Pandemic, but for now, the possibility of fully publicly funded higher education has been put on the shelf.  Many feel there is more work that needs to be done on this issue, especially considering thousands of students are unable to work during this difficult time to fund this steep fee. Besides, students feel they are not seeing the benefits of this payment considering that due to current restrictions they have been left with no access to facilities for the majority of the year which they paid for.

It is clear that with increasing rent prices around the country and an overwhelming majority of current students dependent on their parents financially, attending university is just an unattainable goal for many.  Without the passing of this bill, students will continue to experience impossible barriers to accessing third-level education.  As Students wanting to make a change what we can do is continue to pressure the government for more support of the right to education.  You can get involved in breaking these barriers through supporting the USI who have been holding protests and making a real difference in regards to this significant issue facing students around Ireland.