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Students must be supported – Conway-Walsh

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INUNDATED WITH CALLS Sinn Féin Mayo TD, Rose Conway Walsh.

Substantial increases in entrance points means many students will not get the courses they want

Áine Ryan

GOVERNMENT must take ‘immediate action to support students to make it to third-level by cutting fees and increasing SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland)  supports’. That is according to Rose Conway-Walsh,  Mayo TD and Sinn Féin spokesperson for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science who has also criticised the lack of fairness in this year’s CAO outcomes.
She was speaking yesterday (Monday) at the launch of a study she compiled, entitled  ‘Telling the Real Story – Students and Parents making their voices heard’. It is the result of the ‘overwhelming number of submissions’ she has received from students and parents about ‘the many experiences of hardship and stress people go through trying to get a third-level education’.
“This year has been extremely hard on young people and their families. Whether prior Leaving Cert students who have lost out on course places or those struggling to find the money to get by at third-level, not enough has been done to meet the basic needs of students.
“All weekend I have been inundated with calls from students and their parents who feel an acute sense of unfairness. They tell me that they feel cheated out of opportunities they worked so hard for. They have lambasted the appeals process which just deals with clerical errors. They cannot appeal the injustice they feel,” Deputy Conway-Walsh said.
On the other hand, she said that many of those who ‘were lucky enough to get a place now are filled with fear of not being able to afford fees, accommodation and other costs’.
“Our research shows a deeply concerning picture of high levels of stress and anxiety as students and their families struggle to access third-level education,” she continued.
Her research shows that four-out-of-five students are ‘concerned or extremely concerned that they won’t have enough money to go to or remain at college’.
“We want to give voice to the individual stories behind these disturbing figures,” Ms Conway-Walsh said. She cited concerns about students expressing concerns about not having enough money for basics like food while fees that are the highest in the EU cause an ‘insurmountable barrier to many’.
This is what one student said: “There is palpable anger out there because many people feel our third-level education system is unfair. €3,000 for fees is a lot of money for average incomes. I was due to work in a job full-time over the summer to help fund my fees. I hate to feel like such a burden to my parents.”
Ms Conway-Walsh also highlighted the fact that many students were being forced to commit to ‘extortionately expensive accommodation before they even have their time tables’.
“These stories have reaffirmed my conviction that our third-level education needs radical reform and my determination to deliver that change,” she added.

Level playing pitch
MEANWHILE, she criticised the lack of fairness in the CAO process this year, stating that it showed a failure to ensure ‘a level playing field for students’.
Speaking after last Friday’s announcement of first-round CAO offers, Deputy Conway-Walsh said: “Many hard-working students have been badly let down by the Government. Substantial increases in entrance points will mean many students will not get the courses that they want. Prior Leaving Cert students will be particularly disadvantaged.”
She said Minister for Education, Norma Foley now needs ‘to look at swiftly implementing change to the appeals process to provide students with an avenue for a real review of their case’.
“Points for many courses have skyrocketed, with some in-demand courses increasing by 80-plus points. Paramedic Studies in the University of Limerick is up by 79 points, Law and French in Cork University are up by 89 points, and Pharmaceutical Science in TU Dublin has increased by a shocking 116,” Ms Conway-Walsh added.