Mature students bear brunt of budgetary cutbacks

Karen O’Neill

From January 2012, student grants will be reduced by 4% and mature students will no longer automatically qualify for the non-adjacent rate of grant. The non-adjacent rate is given to students living 45 kilometres away from the university, up from 24 kilometres prior to the budget. Mature students make up 8% of UCC’s academic body. Many have come forward to voice their concerns to the Express.

Cathy Bunney, first-year Law mature student, author and a mother of six, will next year be financing both her own degree and those of her two eldest children. She receives the VEC (Vocational Education Committee) Maintenance Grant, a grant commonly received by mature students. She has been told her grant is set to drop by 10% next year.

When asked what changes she expects she says “Well, you adapt. You have kids and adapt. You start college and adapt. I think those of us who are already studying a degree are here for good, it’ll be a bit more difficult but we’ll get by.”

She continues: “I think the real issue is that people will no longer see returning to college as an option and they’ll stagnate. Instead of bringing more mature people with some life experience into the workforce (and we know that what the country needs now is common sense) we will just have a large proportion of older unemployable people. Their talents will go to waste.”

She added that she is enjoying her return to student life and laments the fact that budget cuts will prevent others from doing the same. She feels that prolonged unemployment can be unbearable, and that everyone should be encouraged to return to education.

Michelle, who wishes her surname be omitted, is another Law mature student and is applying for a Cork City Council maintenance grant; she complains about the endless and convoluted application process. She claims she has been waiting for months to get to the end of the obstacle course of forms and files that precede the receipt of a grant in Ireland.

Even after receiving this funding, Michelle says that she will not be able to afford a basic crèche package (€140 per week) for her three year old daughter. “I am lucky to have my mother to care for my daughter, but I know other single parents who don’t have that. No-one in the government sees how difficult it is to attend university and care for your children.”

She cites the lack of support for college-going parents as a major deterrent for prospective mature students. “If you have children, you’re putting them through school, bills are piling up, you’re not going to be thinking about that assignment you have due, are you?  If you’re a parent, the kids come first. They always come first.”

Mature-students Michelle and Cathy stress that they do not believe their problems are more special than those of younger people, but rather they are just different.  Both agree that recognising these unique problems and working to solve them is the key to diversifying the Irish workforce through accessible education for all ages.

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