Student Assistance Fund
The Student Assistance Fund (SAF), first established in 1994, provides financial support to full or part-time students who are experiencing financial difficulties while attending higher education. From the years 2009/10 to 2017/18, over €67.5 million was allocated to the SAF, enabling the assistance of almost 123,000 students.
The SAF can be claimed for expenses such as books, rent, food, medical costs, class materials, light and heat bills, essential travel and childcare.
Funding is administered at a local level by higher education institutions, subject to Higher Education Authority (HEA) guidelines. SAF allocations to higher education institutions are calculated using figures for the total student population and target student numbers from defined socio-economic groups (SEG). These SEG student numbers are based on the Equal Access Survey, a voluntary survey completed by first year students.
In 2017, an additional €1 million was allocated to the SAF with institutions asked to prioritise and ring-fence this element of funding for the support of part-time students who are lone parents or members of the other target groups identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.
In 2019, an additional €1 million was allocated to the SAF for Professional Master of Education students.
In 2015, the HEA commissioned an independent review of the SAF to determine whether the policies, guidelines and practices relating to the fund are fit for current and future purpose. This review took place as part of the implementation of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2019.
The main finding of the review was to affirm that the SAF continues to be highly-valued as a source of support for students. Demand remains strong and the flexibility which the fund allows, catering for a diverse group of students in a variety of circumstances, reinforces the need for its continuation and development.
The review also identified a number of challenges that the HEA, working with the Department of Education and Skills and higher education institutions, is now working to address. The common goal is to ensure that the SAF is more effective and targeted in supporting as many students as possible and those who are in the greatest need of support.
The Student Assistance Fund is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund as part of their Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.