Although third level tuition fees in Ireland are relatively affordable compared to some of our nearest and closest neighbours, (UK, here’s looking at you!), the reality is that when the mandatory student registration fee, accomodation costs and the price of books and other materials are taken into account, it can be pretty expensive to attend an institute of technology or university in Ireland. Thankfully however, help is at hand, for some students at least.
What is SUSI and what does it do?
Student Universal Support Ireland, or SUSI as it is more commonly known, is the body responsible for the administering of the Student Grant Scheme, which provides financial assistance to eligible students. Typically, SUSI opens its online application process in the April preceding the start of the academic year in September. In 2018, over 90,000 applications were received, more than 60,000 student grants approved.
SUSI provides means-tested grants for undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Ireland and also, in some cases, to students who wish to study outside Ireland. These maintenance grants, which can help students cover everything from accommodation costs to assistance purchasing course material such as books and transport to and from campus, range range from €305 to €5,915 per academic year, depending on your circumstances. In addition, students attending higher education, as well as receiving the maintenance grant, may also have their student contribution of €3,000 covered.
SUSI and eligibility criteria for the Student Grant Scheme
In terms of eligibility, the most pertinent requirement is that all applicants be a national of a European Economic Area (EEA) member state or Switzerland or have immigration status or leave to remain. On top of that, to qualify for a SUSI grant, a student must have been resident in Ireland for three of the previous five years. However, if a student was temporarily resident elsewhere in the EU/EEA in order to pursue a course of study for a recognised qualification, and were resident in Ireland for three of the five years before starting that course, then they may also be deemed eligible.
From an income threshold perspective, SUSI determines the eligibility of an applicant based on his or her family’s gross income for the previous full tax year. So, for the 2018/19 academic year, 2017 is the tax year that will be assessed. Reckonable income for a student grant is gross income from all sources; however, it should be noted that some social welfare payments are excluded from reckonable income for the purposes of SUSI’s student grant eligibility threshold. For these purposes, gross income is defined as income before any deductions made for PAYE, income tax and other taxes, PRSI, income levies, etc., and also includes income that is described as “tax-free”, “tax-paid”, “not liable to tax” or “exempt from tax”. For more detailed information on what is and isn’t included under reckonable income from SUSI, as well as the impact of the number of dependant children, please visit here.
Crucially, if you were ordinarily resident with your parents from October 1 of the year before the year of entry to the course — as most undergraduate students are, as it is during their last year of secondary school — then SUSI considers you to be dependent on your parents and your income, if you have any, will be assessed together with your parents’ income or incomes. An allowance is made for your earnings outside of term-time – up to €4,500 – which can be discounted from your total reckonable income.
By contrast, you may be classified as an independent applicant by SUSI if you are aged 23 or over on January 1 of the year your course commences — in this case, January 1, 2018 — and if you live separately from your parents from October 1 of the year prior to your course commencing, in this case October 1, 2017.
One important aside to note is that the the reckonable income limits for each additional family member who is already enrolled in a full-time course of at least one year duration is €4,830 for the full maintenance grant and €4,670 for the three-part maintenance grant categories. If you are an independent applicant, the family member taken into account is your spouse, civil partner or cohabitant. If you are dependent on your parents, the family members taken into account are your parent(s) and their other dependent children, if applicable.
Finally, to be reclassified from a dependent to an independent applicant you must either:
- progress from further education to higher education, or
- have a three-year break in your studies, or
- are returning as a second-chance student after a five-year break in your studies.
All other reclassification requests will be refused.
Maintenance grant and full fee grant
The first thing that you need to know about the eligibility criteria for the maintenance grant, and full or partial fee grants, is that the income limit eligibility thresholds change each year. So, the income brackets for the 2018/19 academic year may not be the same as those next year or beyond.
In the case of the maintenance grant, a sliding scale exists for applicants in relation to household income, the number of children in the household and proximity to the third level institution that the applicant is attending. In addition, a special rate is provided to applicants who are deemed to be disadvantaged. We will use three case studies to illustrate how the income bands work in practise:
- James has applied to SUSI and has been approved for a student grant, but which one, and for how much? James is entitled to avail of the Free Fees Initiative, so he will qualify for the maintenance grant rather than the full fee grant option. Also, because James has two siblings (fewer than four children), lives more than 45 kilometres from his campus in the University of Limerick and his parents’ joint income is less than the full maintenance grant threshold of €39,875, he qualifies for a full non-adjacent grant. This means that for the 2018/19 academic year, James will be entitled to a grant worth €3,025.
- Like James, Alice has also been approved for a maintenance grant from SUSI. Her home address is also 60 kilometres from her campus of Waterford Institute of Technology, so she qualifies as a non-adjacent applicant. However, unlike James she does not qualify for the full maintenance grant as her parents earn €45,000, in excess of the €43,810 threshold cut-off for households like Alice’s with four to seven children. This means that she will receive a 75% part maintenance grant rather than James’s full one, which in the 2018/19 academic year is worth €2,270 per year.
- Finally, Maria is an only child who has been deemed eligible for a SUSI maintenance grant. However, even though she is an only child, her parents’ total income is €44,000, meaning that she, like Alice, will only be eligible for a part maintenance grant, however Maria’s will be 25% as the the total income of her household exceeds both the full, 75% and 50% bands. This, on top of the fact that she resides at home and in close proximity (less than 45 kilometres) to her Trinity College Dublin campus, means that Maria will receive a €305 maintenance grant this year.
For more detailed information on the income thresholds and eligibility criteria for maintenance, and full and partial fee grants, as well as a breakdown of special grant rates for disadvantaged students, please visit here.
How to apply
To apply for a student grant you must do so via SUSI’s online portal. To register with SUSI and apply online for a student grant, you will need your Personal Public Service (PPS) number, an email address and a phone number.
For the 2018-2019 academic year you can use your verified MyGovID account to automatically create and log in to your SUSI account without having to register directly with SUSI.
Finally, you do not need to know the course you will be attending in order to apply for a SUSI grant online.