Rural Independent Group: Third-level students ‘abandoned by government’

Third-level students have been “abandoned” by the government, according to the Rural Independent Group of TDs.

The group feels that ongoing difficulties resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted students in numerous ways and now “urgent state assistance” is required.

The group is calling for a “pressing response” and a financial support package to assist students impacted by part-time job losses due to Covid-19, creating an “incapacity to adequately fund college and accommodations”.

‘Thousands of students nationwide left in limbo’

Leader of the group, deputy Mattie McGrath, stated:

“We have raised the dire financial situation being experienced by students this academic year with the Minister for Higher and Further Education for the past several months and as recently as this week, to emphasise its urgency.

“Nevertheless, any responses received to date have been dismal and unsupportive in validating the array of challenges faced by students.

Thousands of students nationwide, many of whom are from rural Ireland, have been left in limbo and abandoned by the government.

“For instance, third-level institutions are governmentally permitted to charge students full registration fees for the current year, despite widespread restrictions on on-campus learning and facilities.

“Consequently, the government’s inaction means thousands of students will pay €3,000 or more, as some colleges have astonishingly increased their fees for blended learning purposes.”

‘Inundated with calls from worried, anxiety-ridden students’

The deputy feels that the minister should have established the student contribution fee at a maximum of €1,500 for the 2020/2021 academic year, in the hope that it would provide students incapable of doing part-time work some leeway.

“However, if the government’s passivity on this matter was not bad enough, we now see a bystander’s stance when it comes to student accommodation costs,” asserted Deputy Mc Grath.

“My office and those of my colleagues are inundated with calls from worried, anxiety-ridden students and parents who have paid substantial sums of money for student accommodations that they now cannot occupy, due to a marriage of enhanced government restrictions and courses moving to online.

“As a group, we are extremely concerned that many students would have no statutory rights to unilaterally terminate a fixed-term tenancy during the fixed-term period.

“Therefore, we are calling on the Minister for Higher and Further Education to immediately act and engage with all key stakeholders – universities, colleges, landlords, students – to develop a pathway that would:

  • Release a student from a tenancy early;
  • Have more flexible tenancy options available;
  • Explore a financial package to help students cover the majority of their student accommodation costs throughout the pandemic;
  • And, perhaps most importantly, have the government illustrate leadership and proactivity in managing this important matter.”

The deputy says the government “must step up to the plate”.

“The false messaging must cease, as should the exorbitant registration fees set by colleges and universities and the shirking of responsibility by handing over all student accommodation disputes to a residential tenancy dispute mechanism.

“As such, it is simply unacceptable for the minister or the government to remain idle.”