Scholarships should be extended to the middle classes

Few would dispute the assumption that strategically planned, high quality higher education has the ability to transform Irish society in a short time and provide the opportunities, skills and confidence that young people need to achieve their full potential. However, access to higher education in Ireland remains inequitable and unequal.

Applications for the renewal of the Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) scholarships for the next academic year have started, while new applications will open on 28 April.

However, the need for a scholarship program that is truly fit for purpose remains unmet. The financial support that students receive from Susi remains largely insufficient and there is still no financial aid for struggling middle-income households.

Country-by-country analysis of the European Commission’s Education and Training Monitor 2019 found that, despite increased public spending on education, investment in higher education in Ireland has not kept pace the increase in the number of students and that the number of low-skilled adults in the population remains high. . Unfortunately, the children of a significant proportion of these same low-skilled adults are denied Susi grants due to marginal increases in household incomes.

One of the main issues with the Susi grant eligibility criteria is that the income threshold is based on gross income

As someone who originally studied in a country where tuition is free when you attend a public university and where the majority of the student population is offered on-campus accommodation for a nominal fee, it is inconceivable to me that Irish students at the third level are not protected in the same way. vagaries of commercial rents; and that successive governments have been so slow to remedy this situation.

Eligibility criteria

It’s not that the government doesn’t know what to do. The Cassells report released in 2016 provided actionable recommendations for achieving adequate funding for higher education in a sustainable way, but it still sits on the shelf, gathering dust.

One of the main problems with the eligibility criteria for Susi grants is that the income threshold is based on gross income. This means that a large number of households are deemed ineligible for subsidies due to income they never actually received.

Is it too much for the government to consider disposable income (gross income net of taxes and social insurance) as a basis for eligibility for the subsidy? Why exclude households because of income they have never even received?

The book income increase of €1,000 for the 2022 financial year is noted, but this is too small and inconsequential an increase for hard-pressed middle-income households who now need urgent help.

A family of two adults with up to three dependent children and a household income above €55,240 is not eligible for Susi grants at all. They are by no means wealthy people, especially given the myriad household expenses they have to deal with and the rising cost of living.

This becomes more interesting when we note that, coincidentally, middle-income two-adult households with one to three children paid the most nominal income tax, per capita per adult, and social insurance. compared to all other categories. They are net contributors to the public purse and undoubtedly deserve more favorable political attention.

Public goods

We live in a country that ranks 10th in the world according to the Numbeo index in terms of cost of living and household rent. If it is recognized that education is a public good, why are middle-class households excluded from free higher education?

Based on the CSO Household Income Scale, the Restricted Middle occupies the 50th-60th percentile, and their disposable incomes and household expenditures are nearly at par. This means they were ‘living on the edge’ five years ago and I personally know a few who have been knocked down by increases in the cost of living since then.

Economically disadvantaged groups should receive equitable support to improve their skills and access employment with a living wage

The government should also consider the wider implications of this negative trend in terms of health and quality of life.

Why is the government doing so little to alleviate the suffering that affects its own citizens on a personal level, especially the issues that affect students, the economically disadvantaged, and hard-pressed middle-income workers?

Our students are the future leaders of the nation. To reach their full potential, they need fair and equitable access to quality education and jobs.

In particular, economically disadvantaged groups should receive equitable support to improve their skills and access employment with a living wage.

Middle-income households are used as workhorses of the public treasury, a huge source of income, but they receive very little in return in the form of reasonable supports. We need focused political attention to urgently address these policy shortcomings.

Ade Oluborode is a lawyer

About Andrew Estofan

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