Higher Education Grant abolished for Mature Students. For some, college recedes into the mists.

Mature Students who missed out on third level education often avail of an access programme to qualify for entry in to a bachelor level degree course at college.

Here is the story told by a female  Ballymun Resident who is the living embodiment of what regeneration is all about. Regeneration is about the mind and spirit as well as the physical environment.

“I want to bring to your attention the plight of myself and my fellow students on the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) foundation course for mature students. Recent budgetary measures have removed our right to a maintenance grant for our future degree programs, enrolling in September 2010. We are 26 mature students, aged between 25 and 60, all of whom are attending college for the first time. For various socio-economic and cultural reasons, we were unable to attend college via the normal school-leaver route, at 18 years old. Now that we are enrolled for the 2009-2010 academic years, and upon successful completion of this course, we are guaranteed a place at Trinity College for an undergraduate degree programme, commencing in September 2010.

We were led to believe that this was our chance to get a degree and greatly improve our life chances, when in the recent budget; our eligibility for the Higher Education grant for third level education was removed, as we will all be in receipt of Back to Education Allowance (BTEA). Due to this budgetary measure, the economic strain which we will find ourselves under for the coming four years will be too much for many of us, and our chance to improve our lives and those of our families, may again slip out of our grasp.

We understand the economic strain which our government and indeed our great country and that we all need to do what we can to help. However, the eligibility for the maintenance grants has not been removed from current students, just cut by 5%. This grant cut for new students represents a rather paltry saving of around €4 million, according to the Department of Education website.

I have in recent days heard that this cut is being labelled as a double payment and that all double payments are being cut, but the fact that current students are able to retain this grant proves that this description of the grant as a double payment are actually false. The maintenance grant is extremely important for transforming the lives of individuals and their families. Many of those on the current TAP access course come from families where they are the first ever to attend college, and they can be regarded as an inspiration both to their families and to the wider community as a whole.

This grant is a lifeline for the mature students who most need it, and represents the only chance many of us will ever have to attend college.

These funds are used to pay for childcare, transport, books, photocopying, and research. It is not the mature students who are the ones in the college bars every night drinking their grant away, we are the ones who are at home with our families, living in abject poverty.

Would it not be fairer to reconsider our applications as we are current students, or indeed to implement a fair cut in the grant to all students, whilst retaining our eligibility? If you ask any college lecturer or mature student officer in any college in the country, they will tell you that mature students are a credit to any class, helping to lift the overall marks of all the students they come into contact with.

 I hope that you will be willing to reconsider the government’s position on this cut; as otherwise, most of us will not be at college in September 2010. It seems ludicrous that the students, who really need this grant, will instead get the door to college closed, locked and barred in their faces.  I look forward to hearing from you on this matter and hope that you will be able to help.”

I will write to the Minister for Education, Mr Batt O’Keeffe and to the Opposition Shadow Ministers to lobby for this group. It is the least that I can do. I will also write to Minister Eamonn O’Cuiv.

In Summary: For Mature students, the back to Education Allowance is continued but the Higher Education Grant is abolished which makes a huge impact on mature students who have families and other responsibilities. In RAPID (Regenerating areas by Planning, Investment and Development) and Regeneration areas especially, these cuts should not be imposed. The Department of Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs has a responsibility in these areas and should probably fund those of these mature students who live in these areas.