Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Students took to the streets in Dublin on 3 November 2010, protesting against a proposed increase in registration fees for third level courses. Undergraduate education in Ireland is nominally free, though the spiralling level of registration fees (from  €900 euro in 2008 to €1500 this year) raises important questions about what exactly ‘free’ means. The emphasis on fees, however, directs attention away from the other important barrier to participation in third level education. The only state support provided to students is an annual maintenance grant, which is means-tested. A student who qualifies for a full grant, and who lives more than 24km from the college she plans to attend, gets €3,250 a year to cover living expenses. Taking the college year at 35 weeks, this works out at €92.85 a week to cover all living expenses, including rent, food, bills and travel. This grant has been already reduced by 5% this year, and may well be reduced further. ‘Disadvantaged’ students may receive an additional €3,105 a year, but only if they meet a range of stringent conditions.

Unlike many other OECD countries, Ireland has no state-backed loan scheme to help students fund education, so students turn to part-time jobs or commercial loans, both of which are increasingly difficult to access. The way in which grants are paid out further contributes to financial worry for students – they are paid out by VECs or local authorities in 3 installments throughout the year, but there are considerable variations in the timing of the payments, and payments are often late. As a result, some students are experiencing significant financial hardship, which in turns affects their ability to complete their third-level education. Third-level institutions can provide emergency support from student hardship funds, but this is a stop-gap measure only.

If Ireland as a ‘knowledge society’ has any validity, then we need to address barriers to third-level participation and completion. Fees are an important factor, certainly, but so too is financial assistance for those bright and capable people with limited means to afford the other costs associated with studying (like living expenses). Let’s not forget this important fact as the debate over fees takes centre stage.

Mary Gilmartin

Three new drabble postcards to NAMA.


Yummy Drummies

“Like, I really, really wanted those boots. They’re so cooooollll!”

“Your mother’s a bitch if she won’t get them for you.”

“Yeah, she keeps going on about being maxed out on her credit card and about bills piling up. It’s such a bore.”

“Why don’t you work on your Dad; see if he will come up with the goods?”

“Funny, my Dad’s not himself lately. He spends a lot of time in his office in the garden, screaming down the phone at people, and smoking a shit load of cigarettes.”

“Do ya think he might be stressed out or what?”

Mary Corcoran


Leaving, on a Jet Plane

‘You’ll phone when you get there?’

‘Yeah, yeah.  Don’t worry.’

‘And someone’s going to meet you at the airport?’

‘Ma, we’ve been through this.  I’ll be fine.  Gary said he knows someone who’ll be able to get us a job.’

She pulled a tight smile.

‘Look, I better go.  I need to get through security.’

She stepped closer and drew him into a hug.  ‘Ring me, okay?’

‘Ma, you’re like a broken record.’

She pulled back, tears edging down her cheek.

‘Look after yourself, son,’ his father said woodenly, holding out a hand.  ‘Don’t get mixed up in anything stupid.’

Rob Kitchin


Working late

“I thought when I went from being a nurse to a manager I would work more regular hours and take home more money.”


“My husband laughs because I actually am working longer hours but not getting the shift allowances and overtime I got as a nurse.”

“Can’t you just walk out at 5pm?”

“If I walk out the whole thing falls apart. A family arrives at 4pm with a dying relative – am I supposed to just say sorry for your troubles, but my day is done. Sometimes I am there till 11pm sorting things out. I can’t let people down.”

Mary Corcoran