Included in the 2021 budget announced in October was a €50 million fund for the department of Higher and Further Education to be distributed to all EU undergraduate and postgraduate students. It amounts to a one-off €250 payment per student and was introduced to compensate students for added difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
When making the announcement, Minister Simon Harris said that the payment is ‘a recognition of the financial challenges this has brought for many people.’ However, the €250 refund falls far short in its attempt to adequately compensate students for both the financial and non-financial burdens faced this year.
Far too often, students are told to ‘get over ourselves and be thankful for what we have.’ This sentiment is all to common in public discourse and is generally as a result of ignorance as to the reality of many of the challenges college students face today. While the €250 payment will provide some relief, when you consider how far it actually goes for students in terms of covering costs, its inadequacy becomes apparent.
For those students living on campus for this years two semesters in the Glenomena or Ashfield residences, the €250 payment will only cover roughly one weeks rent out of their nine month stay. This represents a pitiful 2.75% of their cost of accommodation for the year. This does not factor in the extortionate living costs that students must pay when living in Dublin for college. In a guide for UCD students on Dublin living costs, UCD global estimated it to cost approximately €625 for living expenses like food and clothes. Hence, the €250 would not even cover two weeks of these expenses alone.
The payment is intended to directly reduce how much students pay of the €3,000 fees. However, UCD students find themselves with an additional €254 student centre levy. When factoring in this levy, even with a payment of €250, student will still find an outstanding balance of €3,004. Further still, many students face exorbitant costs for books or equipment essential for college at home. One thing the pandemic has thought us is how expensive laptops have now become simply basic requirements for college. This €250 payment would only cover a tiny cost of any worthwhile laptop or might not even cover some books required by unfortunate law students.
Of course, €250 is better than nothing but it only represents half of what was demanded by the USI in the run up to budget day. Clearly, this €500 figure was not plucked out of thin air but based on the high and ever rising costs faced by college students. Despite only getting half of what was asked for, many consider students ‘lucky’ to receive anything at all.
Many of the students reading this article will do so behind the same desk they have spent most of this awful year. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, but the life of students is unrecognisable to what it was last year. College is so much more than a piece of paper received at graduation. For many it is when they blossom as individuals and finally get the chance to experience newfound independence. The social aspect of the college experience cannot be underestimated. If you ask UCD alumni about their time in college they struggle to recite all the knowledge they learned in packed lecture halls, but they will recall the fond memories of unforgettable experiences shared with lifelong friends.
While many students struggle financially this year, according to the Irish Times, UCD took in €11 million more in fees this year compared to last year. The €250 payment is coming directly from the government, meaning UCD has no obligation to financially compensate students for the impact COVID-19 has had on students learning. While the university continues to commercialise and prioritise raising revenue over student wellbeing, the COVID-19 pandemic has only served to highlight this. Perhaps it is best seen in the University Management Teams pitiful offer of a €50 rebate of the student centre levy which was rejected by the SU council.
In these exceptional times, the insufficient €250 payment is indicative of the crisis in higher education funding, with both the government and UCD neglecting vulnerable students. Unfortunately, Irish college students are now used to being taken advantage. It is shameful that this has culminated in a pathetic refund in what is an extremely difficult time for many students.