A €168 million support package for Further and Higher Education institutions and students has been secured by Minister for Further & Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science, Simon Harris. The package was announced on Wednesday morning (22nd of July) by Minister Harris and Minister of State, Niall Collins.
The Department of Education released a statement noting that the package supports will “cover costs incurred by third-level institutions” during covid-19 and “will help students return to college this September.”
Included in the package is a scheme which is aimed at helping students with access issues such as a lack of electronic devices and adequate broadband connectivity to allow them to undertake remote learning. RTÉ reported that up to 10,000 third-level students will receive financial support from this scheme to purchase the necessary electronic devices. €15 million was approved by the Cabinet for this scheme. A further €2 million of the package will be used to specifically help marginalised and disadvantaged students to access college.
€3 million of the overall package is going to be allocated towards mental health supports, something which UCD Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Ruairí Power, commended via a tweet, saying it’s “great to see additional ring-fenced funding for mental health/counselling services and other supports in universities”. The package has also made a further €16 million available to double the Student Assistance fund as a result of students having lost jobs and opportunities to earn an income due to covid-19. €48 million is being allocated towards the support of research work undertaken by Universities.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) and its member universities have “warmly welcomed” the funding package. It has stated that the fund provides “essential supports for reopening campuses and for research projects” and that the “provision of funds for student supports … is particularly welcome”. Jim Miley, the Director-General of the IUA, commented that the support package will ensure “that the quality of those programmes is underpinned to deliver the best student experience possible”.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has issued a statement welcoming the funding package as well as calling for more clarity in “addressing the digital divide, the Student Assistance fund and support for mental health programmes. USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick commented that the USI is “keen to work with the department to ensure it is clear, accessible and fair ahead of its roll-out.” She questioned whether institutions will be free to spend the funding as is necessary or will it be ring-fenced to help specific measures such as remote learning.
Minister Harris, speaking today, emphasised the “need to support” Further and Higher Education institutions as they continued to “provide education through emergency remote learning” during the most “restricted period of the pandemic”. In a video posted online, he said this support package is the first step “for this new Department and this new Government in supporting the third-level sector, in supporting students and supporting access and inclusion.”
Mahnoor Choudhry – Assistant News Editor