On the 10th of October the Annual Budget for the year 2024 was published and with it came a series of announcements from the Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, and the Minister for Skills, Niall Collins. Included in both were many measures aimed at addressing and alleviating the increasing cost of living burdens that every student in Ireland has experienced in recent years.
First and foremost, Budget 2024 just like Budget 2023, will cut the student contribution charge by €1,000. However, full-time undergraduate students who come from families with a combined income of less than €100,000 annually are eligible for a further reduction of €500.
These eligible students will have their fees cut in half. From September 2024, the student contribution fee will be abolished for all undergraduate students from families making less than €55,924. These measures will significantly reduce the costs associated with third-level education, however, many student organisations like UCD’s Student Union argue that they don’t go far enough and that student contribution charges should be completely abolished.
The minimum wage will be increased to €12.70, an increase of 12% from the previous minimum. This will come into effect from the 1st of January. This may not be enough to cover the living costs for students who may work part-time to fund their studies or who are unable to work.
The organisation Living Wage in Ireland maintains that this increase, while welcomed, falls short of the living wage of €14.80. This means that many working students will continue to feel pressure to meet their daily costs. In our current inflationary environment, students will continue to require financial support in the coming years.
Rental costs continue to be the single most significant expense in any student’s budget in Ireland. While it is difficult to conceive of budgetary reforms covering a single fiscal year that can effectively reduce this imposition, this year’s budget contains an increase to the renter’s tax credit which will “put some money back into your pocket”, according to Minister Harris.
For 2024, both students and parents can avail of a tax credit worth €750. Those parents who pay for their children’s rent can also avail of this tax credit and will have the ability to backdate tax credit claims from 2022 and 2023, years in which the renter’s tax credit was worth €500. This will provide a small relief for students and parents in the renting market but many would argue that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Students pursuing other forms of higher education have also been included in this package. Students with a household income of less than €56,000 who wish to pursue part-time education or online learning are now eligible to receive the benefits of the Free Fees Initiative.
This will grant students pursuing undergraduates for the first time fully subsidised tuition. This enables access to education for the likes of single parents, carers, and full-time workers who previously had neither the time nor the ability to access such forms of educational attainment.
With so many students commuting to university every day, continued support for fares was needed and thankfully these have been delivered. Student fares on public transport will continue to be 50% of the usual rate, continuing the subsidy introduced in Budget 2023. Additionally, the young adult fare reduction has been extended from 23 to include 24 and 25-year-olds.
There are more measures than are stated above included in Budget 2024 which seek to alleviate the cost burden of education for students, but there is consensus among students that the measures while providing some much-needed support, do not adequately address the problem of educational costs in Ireland. Rental costs and access to housing for students will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future.
Adam Behan – Politics Writer