Of course. Core funding is a major issue. Time and again we have called for increased supports in terms of funding for the system.
The system is underfunded, as has been seen day in and day out. It can be heard from everyone, including students, academic staff, non-academic staff, professional support staff and everybody in between. We can all agree that underfunding is an important issue in the higher education system but we also need to address, on their own merits, the financial supports available to students.
On the system of direct provision, I echo comments made previously and thank members for the comments they have made in that regard. A number of students are able to access third-level education through universities and institutions-of-sanctuary programmes, which are positive but limited. That is why we have asked in our submission for students who are refugees and living in direct provision to be omitted completely from the residency regulations for the SUSI procedures in order that they have access to higher level education and can contribute back to the society in which they live.
The adjacency rate has a significant impact on students. I refer members to our pre-budget submission. In 2011, under the 24 km criterion, 77% of those being paid the maintenance grant were eligible for the non-adjacent rate, which is the higher rate that can support them by enabling them to live closer to their colleges or to commute. In 2018, under the 45 km criterion, the proportion who are eligible dropped to 52%. The situation has not changed for the families in question, that is, the distance they live from colleges has not changed but the support they are offered has. This has a considerable impact on students and their families. The intention of the non-adjacent rate is to provide students with additional support to be able to attend and commute to college or to live closer to the college at which they study. Unfortunately, however, due to the changes made, the rate is no longer sufficient and does not support students with what they need to be able to progress through college.
To respond to comments made by Deputy Ó Laoghaire, SUSI definitely does not go far enough. The current non-adjacent rate, which is a 100% support rate without a special rate, works out at €3,025 per annum in maintenance support, but accommodation alone can cost more than €6,000 before any additional fees, such as for books, transport or bills, are taken into consideration. It does not come close, therefore, to covering the cost of accommodation, not to mention any of the other costs associated with attending education.
The class of applicants is of great concern, as has been highlighted repeatedly during the meeting. It affects a large percentage of students who are under the age of 23 but are forced to be classed as dependants if they cannot prove estrangement, which was referred to earlier. The difficulty of being able to prove estrangement in order to access support is a matter students' unions deal with day in, day out. Many such cases are overturned when they are appealed and come before the SUSI appeals board but it has left students in a very difficult position for an extended period in respect of financial support and the ability to access education. It is important to note there are students under the age of 23 who are parents themselves and who are classed as dependants under their own parents' income because of the inflexibility of the situation and the SUSI regulations.
On the nine institutions, I echo the comments made earlier. It is very much about following the student rather than the institution and providing the student with the education he or she requires. On the unfortunate circumstances that exist, the points race and so on, I echo the comments made by Senator Ruane and others.
On the point about re-entering education if one has obtained a qualification within the past five years, we are in a changing world of work. There is a statistic, although I cannot recall the figure off the top of my head, to the effect that a large percentage of the jobs that will exist in five years have not yet even been created or that we have not yet even considered them. People being able to access and re-enter education is essential to ensure there is the knowledge economy we discuss so often, with a well-educated workforce, and that students will have access to the courses which will support them in the years ahead. While they may already have gained a qualification, it may not be able to support them in their future because of the changing nature of the world of work.
I will be glad to follow up on any other comments with individuals later.