A £55m package has been introduced to bolster the amount of funds available to students in Northern Ireland. Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has announced that for the 2023/24 academic year, the maximum maintenance loan will rise by 40%.

Education and the Cost of Living Crisis

This comes as a response to the ongoing cost of living crisis. With soaring rates of inflation, tax rises, and energy price increases, students making their first foray into the adult world are particularly vulnerable. Along with these factors, working students also face stagnant wages.

This support also comes at the same time as tuition fees rise by 1.8%.

‘I am of course conscious that this uplift will not take effect for another year. This is why I have already increased the budget for student hardship funds across the higher education institutions by £2.8million, bringing the total allocation to £5.6million for this year,’ the Minister said in a statement reported by the BBC.

‘And I have been consistent in pressing the institutions to apply as much flexibility as possible when dealing with applications from students for hardship funds, to help ensure that any student who is experiencing genuine financial difficulty has access to support.’

Student Loan Application
Applying for student loan from Getty

For students living at home, the package will amount to an increase from £3,475 to £5,250 for the maximum loan amount. Students living on campus or independently from their parents will receive an increase from £4,840 to £6,776. For London based students, amount available will increase from £6,780 to £9,492.

The package will also include teaching grants, and other support pathways.

The Dropout Concern in Northern Ireland

The increase in funds is in effort to allow a greater number of students facing financial difficulties to remain studying. The number of students dropping out of university in Northern Ireland increased by nearly 60% for 2021/22, according to the BBC. This is a drastic shift from earlier rates during the Covid-19 pandemic, when dropout rates were exceptionally low.

The Minister has also stated that his department will be conducting a review of higher education funding as a whole.

‘In the current climate, it is also appropriate that we take a long-term look at how higher education is funded in Northern Ireland,’ he explained. ‘The main objectives of this review will be to ensure that students have the support they need in order to commence and complete higher education study, and that our higher education sector is put on a more sustainable financial footing.’

See also: Eight in Ten Brits Will Have to Cut Spending in the Cost of Living Crisis

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