In any context other than a generational cost of living crisis, a reduction in third-level fees might have been seen as a seismic shift in government policy.
Fee reduction and abolition has been campaigned for by students, students’ unions and opposition politicians for years now.
But the Ireland of 2022 is a country where a once-off €1,000 cut to the student contribution will perhaps go no further than keeping the house heated and the lights turned on this winter.
This aptly sums up Budget 2023 for students – welcome change, but far from comprehensive or extensive enough to make a real difference.
Fee reductions apply only to undergraduates. The once-off cost-of-living payment for PhDs falls well short of what they need while their stipends remain so low. Some measures won’t kick in until the next academic year from September 2023.
It seems that the government knew they couldn’t stand by and do nothing. But with everybody struggling across the board, what they could spare for students amounts to a drop in the ocean.
What stings most is a clear disregard of the problems facing student renters. Rent relief coming in the form of a €500 tax credit is a massive oversight.
There are many students working enough to pay their way, but not enough to pay tax.
All that before mentioning that one €500 credit for rent in this property market is measly. The latest Daft.ie rent price report found the average cost of renting a single room in Galway City was €588.
Not even a month’s rent covered by a renter’s tax credit in the middle of an accommodation crisis.
Short-term solutions don’t offer much help on the future outlook on accommodation.
Tax credits and one-time payments are all well and good, but the student accommodation crisis won’t be over until we see plans for an adequate supply of affordable, purpose-built student housing.
The situation is worse still if you’re renting as a master’s student. No break on the soaring cost of rent, no leeway in the payment of substantial fees. No support whatsoever in this Budget for someone paying €600 and upwards for rent and fees well over double that of an undergraduate.
But this isn’t a case of whataboutery, pining for what someone else got while complaining that others got nothing. Post-Budget discourse too often falls foul of begrudging other people for getting the help they need while others were left out in the cold.
This isn’t a competition between different cohorts of society. Everyone should be provided with the necessary support, especially amidst this crisis.
Undergrad fee reductions, once-off double grant payments, permanent SUSI increases and all these new permanent measures should be seen as a welcome change for all. This may represent a long-term step change for government where barriers to education can be broken down even further over time.
Blame falls at the feet of the government for not taking into account that their new measures will have so many slipping through the cracks.
One small step was taken in the right direction with Budget 2023. There remains a long road ahead before we reach a point where young people can access education and accommodation without barriers.