The number of third level students being deemed eligible to receive State SUSI grants continues to fall, while numbers attending college continue to rise, data received by RTÉ News shows.

Last year 79,000 students were awarded grants by the State's student support body, SUSI. This is 7% fewer than in 2015 when 85,000 students were deemed eligible.

So far this year 71,500 students have been awarded grants. However this number may rise as final decisions are made in relation to several thousand remaining applications.

The decline in the number of students eligible for the grant becomes even starker when contrasted with the growth in student numbers over the same period.

Between 2015 and last year overall student numbers increased by more than 17% .

While many more people are attending third level, significantly fewer are finding themselves eligible to secure important financial supports.

The numbers applying to SUSI for grant aid also continue to fall. This year 95,000 students applied, compared to 108,000 six years ago, and 103,000 four years ago.

The fall in applications and grant awards is likely to be due to the fact that income thresholds for grant eligibility have been static for a decade.

Wages have risen over the same period so a significant proportion of students who may in past years have been eligible for a SUSI grant, based on their parents' wages, are no longer eligible.

Budget 2022 will see income thresholds for eligibility increased by €1000 for next year's applicants.

This will see the main income threshold for a full grant rise from €39,875 gross, to almost €41,000.

This includes parental earnings from all sources, as well as any money earned by a student during the academic year.

The Department of Further and Higher Education said the increased income threshold would ensure that more students qualify and more families can access support.

However the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has said that the change, while welcome, is not enough.

It has called a much deeper range of measures to address what it says is the significant underfunding of the entire third level sector.

Commenting on the income threshold change and a €200 increase to grant levels, USI President Clare Austick said the lack of a holistic approach to underfunding across the sector was really disappointing for students who are experiencing financial hardship.

"The financial barrier has always been the biggest in terms of access to education," she said.