Education Conference member Declan Clancy produced an application form from a WIT student at the Saint Vincent de Paul Warehouse on the Six Cross Roads on Wednesday last.
Its content was typical of the correspondence the VdeP receives from students struggling to make ends meet, he added. And it made for stark, albeit fascinating reading.
“Over the summer months, I spent (the summer) living with my brother, sleeping on his sofa. This allowed me to save up enough money to pay the required first month’s rent and security deposit, which in total came to €758. This has left me struggling to buy all the new essential household items that a student would need, including towels and bedding.”
The student’s application continued: “It is essential to me to have printed notes daily for each of my six modules. I also need sports clothes and training equipment for my course. I also don’t own a laptop or printer which [if I did own both] would reduce my weekly costs overall. I appreciate any assistance the Society may be able to give me. Thanks.”
“Now,” said Mr Clancy, “that’s a typical application for us to receive. This student is on social welfare, which just about allows him to live, but the whole concept of getting a computer, well he just couldn’t afford it so we would definitely help him.
“Now, if he told us that the computer was €600, we would say, we don’t have €600 and we couldn’t give someone else €600. We have limited funds, so we would say, right, we can make a contribution towards the cost of it – in this case, €400.
“And we also told him that if there was an absolute contingency for him to come back to us regarding his following year’s study, then he should do so but that our contribution would be limited. We assist students not only in year one, but in year two and year three, and if there’s a four-year course, then we extend that assistance to year four.”
Declan Clancy added: “In the past, we used to help people doing Masters and PhDs but we can’t do that anymore, unfortunately, because we just don’t have the money. And money is an ongoing problem.
“The needs of young men like the one I spoke to you about, their needs are right across the board, and while €400 may not sound like a great deal of money, it is making a difference – a positive difference.”
When it comes to determining which student has the greatest need, Declan Clancy said the Education Conference “does not forensically examine” application. “It is a friendly, easy, simple and reasonable mechanism, and at the heart of that is a recognition of a student’s self-respect. It is in no way forensic. We aim to assist, reassure and support.
“The reality is that 100 per cent of the people we are assisting are on social welfare, so you’re talking about students who, to begin with, are not well off. We’re never exploited in any way, shape or form and our dilemma is the limited to what we can do, by that I mean the level to which we can help a student.”
Declan Clancy said the support provided by Waterford VdeP over the duration of a student’s time in third level “is unique…and that’s part of the essence of what we do”.
He added: “If you go into arrears on a payment owed to a college, you can have your computer access cut off, so too your access to results, everything can be frozen, and we’d have a great deal of sympathy who find themselves in such a situation.
“And while we cannot fully finance any student, we do what we can. We wish we could do more. We interface, in general, with students once over a 15-minute discussion, and we tell them that from there on in, they’re on our list, we get them to fill in a form, then we’ll talk further over the phone over five or so minutes, then send a stamped addressed envelope out to your residence with whatever funding we’re in a position to provide. It’s amazing the stuff that students manage to do in limited circumstances and it’s a privilege to help those with such diverse needs but with such a determination to build a better future for themselves.”
This year, Waterford Saint Vincent de Paul’s Education Conference will spend at least €80,000 in assisting 200 local students, having spent €100,000 during 2014.