A surge in demand from students struggling with soaring living costs has triggered the release of an extra €4.5m for college hardship funds.
t is on top of €8m already announced in the Budget for the Student Assistance Fund (SAF), an increase of more than 50pc in the space of a few months.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Beth O’Reilly said the need for the increased allocation was “sign of how bad things are”.
The SAF is funded by Government and operated by colleges, usually the welfare or access office, to support full or part-time students experiencing temporary or ongoing financial difficulties.
The increased funding was announced by Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris today, to assist students with the cost of living.
It was on foot of request from colleges across the higher education sector for a top-up in Budget allocations to meet the sharp increase in demand.
Students are struggling with high rents, which have been driven up by the accommodation shortage, while inflation has pushed up other living costs such as food.
In some cases, colleges said they had an increase in applications, while in other cases, the level of support needed by individuals was higher than usual.
The SAF can be used to help students meet costs such as books and class materials, rent and other utility bills, food, essential travel, childcare and medical bills.
Mr Harris said it was an invaluable resource for students who were finding it difficult to make ends meet and was there to assist with additional costs they may face over the coming months.
Ms O’Reilly said every week their students’ union welfare officers were coming to USI seeking advice on how to deal with students who were becoming homeless, or facing significant financial pressures because of bills.
“A huge number of students are falling into situations of serious financial hardship, more so than ever they are facing extreme and sudden financial difficulty,” she said.
The USI president said one issue was students who had been on a Erasmus placement abroad last semester, returning to college and not being able to find accommodation or needing money for very high rents.
She said that while they “generally come to expect” thar the Budget allocation for SAF would be topped-up, “for it to happen so early on is a real sign of how bad things are”.
The €4.53m brings the total allocation for the SAF for the 22/23 academic year to over €20m, the highest ever.
Mr Harris said the fund was an invaluable resource for students who were finding it difficult to make ends meet and was there to assist with additional costs they may face over coming months.