"I worry about money every day": The financial stress of second-level initial teacher education in Ireland


Source: Issues in Educational Research, 31(2), 586-605

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper examines the experiences of second-level student teachers’ (n = 391) enrolled on the Professional Master of Education (PME) program regarding the costs, both financial and emotional, of entering the teaching profession in the Republic of Ireland.
It presents important findings that highlight financial stress, student-teacher well-being, equity, access, and engagement with consecutive initial teacher education (ITE) programs.

This study involved the national distribution of an online survey to PME second-level student teachers to generate data in order to answer the following research question:
What is the cost (financial and emotional) of second-level initial teacher education (ITE) in Ireland?

The instrument
This study employed a mixed survey instrument which was designed by the authors and contained a blend of dichotomous questions, rating scales, and open-ended questions to capture the benefits of both quantitative and qualitative data.
An initial survey was piloted with student teachers (n = 100) from one of the author’s institutions in the 2016-17 academic year.
After determining issues that arose from the pilot, the instrument was revised into a second draft consisting of four sections, namely
(1) background information;
(2) financial expenditure and income;
(3) financial stress; and
(4) impact and future.
The questions in Section 3 were adopted from a financial stress index created by the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) (2015) in the US.
These questions focused on students’ financial worries, how they paid for their costs, and their perceptions on whether their financial concerns influenced their academic performance and participation in college activities.
Section 4 comprised of two open-ended questions and one Likert scale question adopted directly from the Eurostudent Survey V (Harmon & Foubert, 2009).
This Likert scale question asked students to determine the extent to which they were currently experiencing financial difficulties.

The sample
The final version of the survey was transcribed into Survey Monkey, and following institutional ethical approval, was circulated via email to Education departments in seven higher education institutions (HEIs) in Ireland in March 2018.
Between Year 1 and Year 2 students, the authors approximate that their response of 391 was approximately 24% of the overall sample population.

Findings and discussion
The findings of this study highlight the financial stress evident in the lives of student teachers enrolled on the second-level Professional Master of Education (PME) program in Ireland.
For example, 35% of participants stated that they were currently experiencing serious or very serious financial difficulties.
There were numerous examples of the adverse effects that these difficulties were having on participant’s academic and mental health outcomes. The findings show that in the main, students teachers enrolled on the PME program relied on their family or partner for funding.
However, this was not an option for some students from low-income families and they were much more likely to rely on a loan from a financial institution to fund their enrolment and participation in the program.
Research has shown that although loans may provide a gateway into college, they are a huge source of financial stress for students and can have a negative psychological impact (Archuleta, Dale & Spann, 2013).
As a respondent in this study (ST193) noted, I am constantly worried about being in huge debt after the PME and whether I will be able to pay it back.
Having to take out such a big loan is financially crippling.
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that 47% of participants in this study agreed that they worried about making enough money after college to repay their student loans.
The typical mean expenditure for students per week was €423 with the main costs being course fees, accommodation, food, and transport.
In order to pay for such expenses, the majority of students undertook work both in and outside of the school setting while registered on the PME program.
73% were in agreement that working for pay interfered with their academic performance.
Taking the students’ mean weekly income against their expenditure, on average, they had a weekly deficit of €151 over the course of the two-year PME program.
This data undoubtedly illustrates the high and unsustainable levels of financial stress that Irish student teachers find themselves under.
In managing large classes of diverse students to substantial expectations from parents, becoming a teacher is already an uncertain, emotional, and stressful journey (Miller & Fraser, 2000).
However, as evidenced through some of the qualitative responses, the stress associated with the professional responsibilities of initial teacher education, pale in comparison to the financial pressures that students’ teachers find themselves under.
Furthermore, these costs are having a large impact on important issues relating to the teaching profession in Ireland.
Graduate numbers from PME programs nationally have fallen by more than a third since the two-year program was introduced in 2014 and this has contributed to a shortage of second-level teachers in some subject areas (Sahlberg, 2019).
Not only this, but the high costs associated also leads to a lack of diversity and an under-representation of some minority groups and low socio-economic status groups in the teaching profession (Keane & Heinz, 2015).
O’Doherty and Harford (2018) determined that the financial implications of the extended program strengthen the largely homogenous student-teacher body in Ireland, who are predominantly white and from the dominant culture.
Thus, if financially stressed student teachers are the visible face of the high costs associated with the PME program, the invisible faces are those who cannot enroll and may have been lost to the teaching profession altogether, irrespective of their academic ability or their suitability to the role.
When participants in this study were asked for suggestions on how to alleviate some of the financial strains, the top three themes which emerged from the data were that they should be paid for teaching while on placement, the cost of the course should be lowered, and there should be more government support in the form of a bursary/grant.
However, at the time of writing, the financial situation for the vast majority of student teachers remains largely the same, with no specific payment to student teachers while on placement.
The Government can point to extra supports such as the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) which aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering initial teacher education, but it is yet too early to comment on the success or otherwise of this initiative (Hyland, 2018).
It is interesting to note that the suggestions from student teachers on how to alleviate some of the financial strains all focused on ‘fixes’ for the consecutive PME route.
While 15% of participants noted to ‘remodel the course’, these student teachers’ comments generally centred around suggestions such as returning the consecutive route to a one-year program of study.
However, in terms of remodelling, there were no suggestions in the data of any more radical changes or alternative routes to becoming a teacher. This is noteworthy because Ireland, in contrast to countries such as the US and England, has no pathways for teacher preparation other than the historical concurrent or consecutive routes.
The gains made by introducing a masters level ITE qualification in Ireland are being lost through the inadvertent but consequential financial burdens that student teachers currently find themselves under.
Thus, despite the well intentioned ITE policy reform, there are serious concerns around its long-term sustainability in terms of teacher supply if the issues of financial stress and debt for student teachers are not meaningfully and strategically addressed.

Archuleta, K. L., Dale, A. & Spann, S. M. (2013). College students and financial distress: Exploring debt, financial satisfaction, and financial anxiety. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 24(2), 50-62. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1043230.pdf
Harmon, D. & Foubert, O. (2010). Report on the social and living conditions of higher education students in Ireland: Eurostudent Survey IV, 2009/2010. Dublin: Higher Education Authority. https://www.eurostudent.eu/download_files/documents/HEA_EUROSTUDENT_Surv...
Hyland, Á. (2018). Teacher education reform in Ireland: Policy and process. Education Research and Perspectives, 45, 4-24. https://www.erpjournal.net/wpcontent/uploads/2020/01/01_ERPV45_Hyland.pdf
Keane, E. & Heinz, M. (2015). Diversity in initial teacher education in Ireland: The sociodemographic backgrounds of postgraduate post-primary entrants in 2013 and 2014. Irish Educational Studies, 34(3), 281-301
Miller, D. & Fraser, E. (2000). Stress associated with being a student teacher: Opening out the perspective. Scottish Educational Review, 32(2), 142-154. http://www.scotedreview.org.uk/media/microsites/scottish-educationalrevi...
National Survey of Student Engagement (2015). Engagement insights: Survey findings on the quality of undergraduate education - Annual results 2015. Indiana University, USA: NSSE. http://hdl.handle.net/2022/23404
O’Doherty, T. & Harford, J. (2018). Teacher recruitment: Reflections from Ireland on the current crisis in teacher supply. European Journal of Teacher Education, 41(5), 654-669
Sahlberg, P. (2019). The Structure of Teacher Education in Ireland: Review of Progress in Implementing Reform. Dublin: Higher Education Authority. 

Updated: Jun. 13, 2022