Struggling third level students are turning to charity and chaplaincy services for support, reports Niamh Geoghegan.

According to Jim Walsh, a representative from Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP), the number of families seeking assistance is “quite high” and has doubled in amount since 2009.

“In the East region alone (Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow) it is estimated that close to 70,000 calls for assistance will be received directly to the Regional office this year. That does not include direct approaches to individual Conferences,” he said

€4.7 million was used to provide direct support in education for both 2nd and 3rd level students in 2013.

However this amount could be relatively larger due to the fact that it is difficult to specify the number of 3rd level students seeking assistance directly.

“The difficulty in extracting assistance specifically for 3rd level students is that in many cases the request for help may be for essentials that families have gone without in order to fund the education of their children. So requests for support to SVP may only be indirectly sought for education purposes,” Walsh explained.

According to Jim the support can materialise in different forms, but is mainly used towards travel, books, equipment, grant support and food.

Surprisingly he claimed that there has been no clear increase in requests for help in regards to rent or accommodation.

“There may also be help with rent but there is no indication that there has been an increase in requests resulting from the shortage of accommodation, particularly in Dublin,” he said.

Aisling Kirwan was one such student who sought assistance form her college chaplaincy service.

A former student of Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), Aisling sought help after the social welfare restricted her money. She admits that the process to seek financial assistance was a challenging one.

“It was really difficult to get any financial help as the service only had a certain amount of money. I had to account for every penny I spent. Considering I was so desperate it was a useful resource, but not an experience I'd like to repeat,” she explained.

When asked if she was eligible for any other form of support, Aishling reveals that any information regarding alternative services was not provided by her college office.

“I think I would have been eligible for other services but when I asked the college office for help they weren't very forthcoming with information and so I never knew of those services until it was too late,” she said.

Aisling argues that in her personal opinion it is very hard for students to seek financial support as charities “focus more so on families struggling”. 

“It's a bit of a cliché but students are the future and if the Government want to prosper they need to enable all students to attend and succeed in college,” she concluded.

Photos: Pink Sherbet Photography/ Flickr