‘Telling the Real Story’, a research project carried out by Sinn Féin during the month of August, sought to capture the current challenges experienced by third-level students and their families.
In response, 1,022 students and many parents from across the country have contributed to create a real-time portrayal of how it is for them.
Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh, Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Research Innovation and Science, who conducted the survey said: "The information gathered is deeply concerning and demonstrates the need for urgent government intervention to address the financial stress and anxiety that over 77 per cent of students surveyed and their families are experiencing.
"Over 80% of respondents tell us they are concerned or extremely concerned that they won’t have enough money to go to or remain at college. They then went on to tell us story after story of how the SUSI Grant System either excluded them or was not sufficient to cover the costs of their third-level education.
"To quote one student, 'This is no country for the children of hard working parents. I worry about my parents' health. They work long hours, never take care of themselves and always put us first; yet, after all that, their son will most likely not be able to afford to attend third-level education.'
"This student, like many others, is excluded because SUSI is assessed on Gross Income rather than Nett Income. The income tax, USC, PRSI as well as the mortgage/rent payments, the accommodation costs paid in the previous year, are all lumped in as if these households have this money available to meet the highest fees in the EU, rent, food, travel, books, phone and other costs.
"Government must make this a fairer system by calculating on Nett income and introducing flexibility to enable SUSI to respond to the real-time financial situations of households. This is now more important than ever because over 50% of students tell us they have not been able to get work this summer. They were counting on this work to pay for college.
"Of all mature students refused a SUSI grant, over 24% was because they were assessed on their parents' income. Another 23% did not apply because they knew their parents' income was over the threshold.
"One student tells her story: 'I am a lone parent in my early thirties with a ten year old daughter. Last year I had to move back in with my parents because I could not afford the rent I was paying. I want to do a course at Sligo IT but have been refused SUSI based on my parents' income. Without SUSI I cannot afford to go.'"
Senator Conway-Walsh continued: "The system must be changed so that mature students have their income assessed independently from their parents and added that uncertainty and affordability of accommodation featured heavily for the parents and students.
She added: "The exclusion of part-time students and those doing on-line courses from SUSI was a big concern, particularly for parents of teenagers with disabilities. A mother from Mayo wrote, 'I have four college-age children, two in attendance and two highly intelligent autistic sons who cannot get SUSI to do on-line courses. They should have a right to pursue their education like the other two.' Building flexibility into the system to enable people of all abilities to follow the pathways most suited to them is imperative."
Conway-Walsh also stated: "Almost 65% of students told us the SUSI grant is not adequate to meet costs associated with college. SUSI has not been increased since 2012. Even a 10% increase, as called for by the USI, could make all the difference. This would require an investment of just over €16 million."
In conclusion Deputy Conway-Walsh said:"Uncertainty, accommodation affordability, loss of summer jobs, high fees, lack of career guidance, and decades of chronic under-funding for Higher Level institutions have all collided to produce a perfect storm for third level education.
"Government must listen and introduce immediate measures to stop students dropping out of their courses or joining the unemployment queues."