Irish parents put great stock in education, and so does the country.

The consensus view for nearly 30 years is that the high quality of secondary and third level education here has been a driving force in attracting foreign owned industry to Ireland and raising our standard of living (at least until now.)

It will need to develop even further however, if we are to both recovery from the excesses of the Celtic Tiger days AND beat new global competition for those top paying ‘smart economy’ jobs.

So much for the long term, but what about paying for this high quality education right now?

As incomes fall, taxes rise and jobs and services disappear, will you be able to afford to pay for the costs associated with sending a young person in your family to college or university in 2009-2010?

It’s a question that thousands of parents want answering – and soon.

In a recent survey in conjunction with the parent’s website, Bank of Ireland estimates that parents could end up paying €42,000 to give a child a third level education, a figure that doesn’t include fees.

This is in addition to the €28,000 they may have already spent for primary and second level education expenses.

The Union of Students of Ireland (USI) estimate that in addition to the compulsory €1,500 registration fee, the total annual cost can amount to between €11,700 and €15,250, though this will vary considerably depending on the programme of study and where the student is based.

Students who go to college but live at home should expect to spend a minimum of €315 a month, or €2,835 for the nine months excluding the registration fee, says the USI.

Typical expenses for the student living away from home include rent at €3,285; food: €1,634; utilities: €613; books and supplies: €585; transport: €738; clothing (including sports kit): €450; pocket money: €1,283; broadband: €198 (plus cost of a laptop).

About 60 per cent of third level students work during the course of the academic year to help meet their expenses, but this percentage is likely to fall as the recession deepens.

The economic malaise is also going to have a negative impact on how far parents’ budgets will also be able to stretch, and the student and parent might want to at least discuss the matter of how sustainable a three or four year third level course may be, depending on the family’s current and future finances.

Parents and children fund third level courses in many ways, the most ideal being from long term savings.

However, only 25 per cent of parents currently save the state child benefit payment, and only 40 per cent of those put the proceeds specifically towards education costs, says Bank of Ireland.

Others rely on income with the student also making a regular contribution from their part-time or summer employment. This money is also often subsidised with short term and longer term loans, by both parent and child.

One very popular way that parents have funded their children’s education costs in recent years has been by drawing down equity loans against the value of their homes.

It’s an option that is rapidly disappearing as banks tighten up their lending criteria in light of falling house prices, the threat of negative equity and growing unemployment.

Some students – (those studying medical and veterinary degrees) – are still considered good loan bets.

But law students, some engineering and architecture students and even those studying to be pharmacists and actuaries could find themselves struggling to convince their lender they are worth bankrolling one bank source told me last week.

“These are no long ‘safe’ jobs in this economic climate,” he said.

Two funding options that do still exist are student grants and scholarships and university bursaries (which students should be investigating right now).

The size of third level grants and funding are frozen for the second year and the amount of is limited according to how many miles from the college the student lives, the family income, means and the number of other dependent children.

Within 24 kilometres of the college, a qualifying student may receive a grant varying from between €345 and €2,680 a year; further than 24 kilometres and the grant varies from between €855 and €6,690, depending on the qualifying circumstances.

Finally, this year’s crop of leaving certificate students will more than likely be the last to be exempt from third level fees.

From October 2010, they (and perhaps) their parents will probably face several more thousands of euro in costs, most probably in the form of deferred loan repayments. There is a rumour that discounts may be available for immediate or early payment.

Whatever the government’s final decision about fees, a plan for paying them, as well as all the ancillary costs, is something that shouldn’t be put off.

Jill Kerby welcomes reader’s letters. Please write to her via ‘snail mail’ 

The Munster Express, 37, The Quay, Waterford or via email at