At the end of June, Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, who previously served as Minister for Health, was appointed Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science with the separate department for Further and Higher Education created alongside his appointment. Along with the new Minister of State for the department, Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins, the department has launched many schemes to aid third level education, which faces numerous challenges as a result of COVID-19.
As part of a new €15 million scheme, the department has ordered almost 17,000 laptops from Dell Computers. As third level students will be partaking in some kind of online learning for the foreseeable future, laptops have become an essential tool. These will be distributed to universities, institutes of technology (ITs) and a number of colleges of further education. Anyone who needs a laptop and falls into the criteria of a disadvantaged student can apply to the students service office in their college to request one. Minister Collins has advised that these applications should be made as soon as possible.
This month Minister Harris announced the launch of an incentive to encourage companies in Ireland to employ apprentices. Any employer who takes on a new apprentice between March and the end of the year will receive a €3,000 payment for each registration. Employers will receive a €2,000 payment in the first year and the remaining €1,000 the next year. According to the Minister, apprenticeships will play a “key part” in “Ireland’s recovery and our country’s future.”
Harris announced that he has made a change to the Student Support Scheme for asylum seekers. Under this scheme, asylum seekers have been able to avail of grants if they have been accepted for an approved Post Leaving Certificate or undergraduate course and provided they adhere to eligibility criteria. Since 2015, asylum seekers could only access this scheme if they had spent a number of years in the Irish education system. However, Harris has decided to waive this requirement as he acknowledges that it has made it excessively difficult for many to avail of the scheme. Asylum seekers will still only be able to access the scheme if they have been living in Ireland for at least three years.
New higher education buildings
Minister Harris has also revealed a sweeping construction programme which will see new buildings, classrooms and facilities be built across 11 institutes in the country. These buildings largely include laboratories, workshops and studios that will allow students to undergo practical and technical work. The first six projects have gone in tender this week and when they are completed, these buildings will allow for the inclusion of 8000 more students. Five more projects will begin construction in January.
Brigid Molloy – Reporter