Each October the Government announces the proposed budget for the following year that includes both proposed expenditures and income to support it. It is not to say that the budget is only just decided in October, but aspects would have been lobbied by external organisations, negotiated and agreed between parties in advance. However, the word that comes to mind to describe Budget 2019 announced on October 9th – dreadful! It does not benefit the students much, even with the little treats, if you want to describe it as such, that the Government threw in.
Higher Education Funding
This is the biggest area that would concern students and in particular Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) like DIT, as it’ll depend on what additional resources will be made to run the college. Unfortunately, only an additional €57 million will be invested on top of current funding for higher educational initiatives! That is shockly short of the €600 million recommended by the Cassells Report to ensure sufficient investment in third level education to meet the growing needs of students attending university and maintain best standard of teaching across the sector.
The additional funding of €57 million is to meet the 3,500 additional places in HEIs due to increasing student numbers, support part-time, flexible learning and the growing apprenticeship sector and research funds for Institute of Technology/TUs. What this means for students is that colleges are going to continue to struggle to balance their budgets while meeting increased demands. We know that many IOTs are running on a deficit and the government are doing nothing to help them. This will all be to the detriment of the student experience as students will end up suffering with cuts to services and weakening teaching standards.
Everyone in the country would have been playing close attention to what the Government would announce to tackle this issue. In particular, ourselves and other Students’ Unions across the country after the ‘Raise the Roof’ protest on 3rd October that had 12,000 people, of which 6,000 we’re students on the street. Did the government listen? I don’t think hard enough, as although €2.3 billion would be invested in housing, is doesn’t go far enough to help struggling students looking to find affordable accommodation
The positive aspect is that there’ll be a 67% increase in exchequer funding to strengthen the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board. This means that cases; students as tenants may bring against their landlords, can be resolved more quickly and effectively, as well as properly ensure rent caps are being adhered to. In addition, Minister Eoghan Murphy announced that legislation is forthcoming but lets not hold our breaths! He promised that it provide sanctions for breaches of rent caps, double the notice period for renters where a notice to quit is served after six months and (all we want before Christmas which is in 56 days!), rent caps extended to include student accommodation. This is something at least but doesn’t go far enough to the demands we put forward at the ‘Raise the Roof’ protest which included capital grants for HEIs to build student accommodation, regulation of AirBnBs and tenancy rights for students living in digs.
Rainy Day Fund
The Government believing that it’s doing better off now post the recession austerity years have decided to establish a ‘Rainy Day Fund’. This fund of over €1.5 billion is supposed to increase the country’s resilience to larger economics shocks that could result in another recession. It was highly criticised by many organisations, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) with a protest on the morning of the day the Budget was to be announced.
It’s ridiculous how the Government thinks it’s fine put away some savings while many services are struggling, not to mention the higher education that needs over €600 million. If a proportion of that ‘Rainy Day’ fund was given to HEIs and the remaining put into savings then that would be fine. However, it appears the education of young adults isn’t worth a diem and I expect our world rankings in standard of teaching in third level will continue to plunder to the point I expect no one will want to study in Ireland anymore as it’s continues to price those out of a basic human right that is a public good and worth investing.
Other areas of interest
Firstly, through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, there’ll be an additional €1.5 million towards youth services and to implement LGBTI+ and National Youth Strategy Actions. Secondly, the treat that I alluded to earlier, the National Minimum Wage will increase from €9.55 to €9.80 per hour from 1st January 2019. This is a plus for many students having to work in order to afford to go to college, and when that is over and above 20 hours a week, students miss out on a college experience. Finally, and the Government may as well have taken back that treat, as VAT in the Tourism and Hospitality sector is to rise from 9% to 13.5%. This means eating out, socialising etc. will be a little more costly and doesn’t help students who don’t have that much disposable income.
To sum it up, Budget 2019 wasn’t the most exciting affair for many, and in particular for students. Higher education isn’t getting the funding it needs, the housing crisis is being tackled but not in the way that benefits students enough. Let’s not mention the ‘Rainy Day’ fund as HEIs are struggling to maintain facilities and fear that they may be swept under a tsunami of debt. The big issue is that the budget is brokered on a ‘Confidence and Supply Arrangement’ between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that if not maintained could lead to a general election. This is something which Students’ Unions and USI will have to tackle differently it we are to make any progress in both the accommodation and publicly funded education campaign.