Over the next number of weeks thousands of young Irish men and women will begin university and college courses throughout the island. For many the experience will be far from easy. The points system, which they have struggled to get through is just the first and possibly the least of the problems they have to overcome.
At present in the 26 counties, government support for students is derisory. The maximum grant available to students stands at only £1,775, less than £50 a week. Estimates supplied by Dublin City University Students Union put the cost of living for the average student, during the college year, at £5,100.
According to Dublin student James Wyer ``even if you do get a grant, it's
almost useless, because the crisis in the housing market means your grant doesn't even cover the rent''.
examination of the cost of renting flats and paying for digs around the country backs up Wyer's claim. Figures compiled at the beginning of this year showed that over the last three years rents have increased by 95%. In Dublin, rent prices have now risen to between £50 and £60 for a room, while digs can cost as much as £90 a week - and the problem isn't confined to Dublin. In Cork, for example, the prices are roughly the same as in Dublin, while in college towns around the country, rent prices rarely fall below £35 a week.
Housing is only the thin end of the wedge of the costs that face students. Travel, food and books are a few of the other substantial drains on a student's resources. College is a full-time occupation. However, most students are forced to work long hours in under paid part-time jobs, just to pay for the bare necessities.
According to Sinn Féin Students' Forum co-ordinator, Damian Ó Leathlabhair, ``the situation is unacceptable. Access to education is a basic human right and the grants system is denying this right to thousands of young men and women. College education is the gateway to most employment opportunities - the effect of government policy, is to alienate those who aren't rich enough from these opportunities''.
In the six counties the Labour Government's decision to abolish maintenance grants and to introduce tuition fees, is proving a big burden for already cash-strapped students.
According to Queens University Belfast student Deirdre Scully ``the situation is appalling. I work two part time jobs, a bar job on week nights and in a shopping centre at weekends. Every day in college I find myself barely able to stay awake, never mind study. If this is what Labour mean when they say they want a `meritocracy', then it does'nt mean very much to the average student at Queens''.
Access problems in TCD
Students on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) have been left hanging in the balance, as it emerged that their funding may be cut.
The programme was established in 1993 to help tackle educational disadvantage. But students studying under the auspices of TAP face major financial problems - because they are ineligible for higher education maintenance grants.
Last year Trinity College itself provided grants of £1,500 each for students. However, this year, of the 149 students on the course, funding has only been provided for 79.
The programme was set up to provide a limited, but nonetheless welcome, level of access for students from disadvantaged areas. At present only 5% of students from north inner city Dublin attend college, while 50% of students from Dublin 4 do.
Students studying as part of the TAP, as with many other disadvantaged students, aren't being given access to a level playing field, because of the long hours they have to work.
Sinn Féin launches Student Recruitment campaign
Sinn Féin has launched a recruitment campaign in third level colleges throughout the country. Already the party has college Cumainn in Universities in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Belfast. ``The campaign is an attempt to encourage young people to become involved in radically changing all aspects of Irish society,'' Sinn Féin Students' Forum co-ordinator, Damian Ó Leathlabhair, says.
``Young people throughout the country are being turned off politics by the constant flow of stories about corruption and greed associated with politicians in Ireland.
``Sinn Féin is campaigning on real issues which effect students' day to day life. From the Housing Crisis, to the paltry level of
grants, Sinn Féin is going to challenge the discrimination that exists in third level education.''
`University Challenge' article:
College is a full-time occupation. However, most students are forced to work long hours in under paid part-time jobs, just to pay for the bare necessities
the situation is appalling. I work two part time jobs, a bar job on week nights and in a shopping centre at weekends. Every day in college I find myself barely able to stay awake, never mind study
Irish Independence Rally
Sunday 5th November
Busy Bee, Ardoyne, Belfast
Start Organising NOW!
For further info contact Dublin on 872 6100