The Society of St Vincent de Paul in their submission to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on the new national plan for equity of access has warned that cuts in career guidance at schools and delays in allocating student grants is leaving young people from low income families “locked out” of third level education.
Speaking at the ESRI’s headquarters in Dublin on its Leaving School in Ireland report, exploring the transition between secondary and third level education, Audry Deane, SVP Social Policy said “it’s almost like the system is conspiring against them. Their parents have been outstripped literacy and numeracy wise, and if they drop out of college they can’t get a grant again. It’s a huge waste of resources.”
The Society has spent over €224,000 helping disadvantaged students access third level institutions over the last two years and in a lot of cases “subbing” many who were awaiting maintenance grants, paid in October at the earliest.
“Low income families do not have the means to bridge this gap in funds until the first grant payment comes through and cannot afford daily cash expenses such as travel, lunches, books and sundries,” Ms Deane told those at the ESRI seminar.
“This very negative and stressful introduction to academic life is not a positive one and in some cases students simply cannot sustain their precarious existence and drop out.”
The student grant awarding body Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) has sped up the application process however, only 43,000 of the 73,000 students due to get a grant this year had been paid by the end of October.
The SVP has called for the grant application process to be reconfigured so the Susi application works alongside the CAO application process.
“This would result in students knowing that they had funding secured when they are offered a college/PLC place,” said Ms. Deane.
The Society has identified other barriers like the sharp rise in rental accommodation costs, and lack of support for part-time students and the “gamed” nature of the current CAO model.
“The very widespread, yet undiscussed phenomenon of private grinds, paid for by a large percentage of Leaving Cert students’ parents is clearly outside the financial capacity of low income families. This clearly causes inequality in educational outcomes,” according to Ms. Deane.