By Paddy Henry
Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has come under fire after suggesting that students receiving the Student Universal Support Ireland Grant (SUSI) should use the funding to help finance rising accommodation costs.
The controversial remark was made to the Irish Independent last week, where the Dun Laoghaire TD was commenting on the increasing cost of on-campus accommodation in Irish universities.
Deputy O’Connor expressed her dissatisfaction at this trend, stating, “I am very disappointed that student accommodation was put up in our universities and higher education institutes’’.
The Higher Education Minister continued by saying that, ‘’There are SUSI Grants available, up to 48% of our student population avails of student grants. So, make sure now that you log on to the SUSI application and make sure that you have filled out the application’’.
The remark provoked an angry reaction from Union of Students Ireland President, Lorna Fitzpatrick, who responded, “This might have been possible years ago, but the reality is that the grant is not enough to support students anymore. SUSI was cut in 2011 and there has been little to no improvement since then. The cost of living has risen but the support has not. The figures speak for themselves.”
Opposition parties took aim at Deputy O’Connor following the declaration. In a statement released on the party’s official website, Sinn Féin’s Education spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó ’Laoghaire TD, remarked, “This comment from the Minister shows just how arrogant and out of touch Fine Gael are with the costs facing third level students. The SUSI grant will not come close to meeting accommodation costs, in the context of 11.5pc increases in many university-owned and on-campus housing schemes. It would leave students nothing for day-to-day living, which is what a maintenance grant is supposed to be for”.
The Minister’s comments came only days after her colleague, Minister for Education Joe McHugh TD, found himself in hot water, for suggesting that families struggling to cover the costs of sending their children to University, should consider more affordable, regional options.
The introduction of legislation, which caps rent increases in purpose-built student accommodation at four percent per annum, was rolled out on August 8th. However, campaigners have accused owners of student accommodation of hiking prices prior to the introduction of the new law. Trinity College Dublin President Laura Beston told The Irish Times, “They knew this was coming down the line and we’ve seen huge increases in some instances.” Beston cited last year’s 18% rent increase at Cúirt na Coiribe as one such example.