The Department of Education has promised ring-fenced funding of €1 million for students undertaking a Professional Master of Education (PME).
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, announced today that an additional €1 million will be given to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) for PME students who are experiencing financial difficulties. The SAF provides monetary aid to third-level students with financial difficulties, students can be assisted towards rent, childcare costs, transport costs, and class materials.
Before 2017, only full-time students could qualify for this support, however, it is now available to part-time students who are lone parents or members of other access target groups.
The funding is intended to alleviate some pressures from students, support access to the teaching profession, and address teacher supply issues. In a report carried out by the Department of Education, second-level enrolment of students is to increase exponentially. The figures have been projected as up to 354,000 in 2030 with this figure increasing to 433,000 in 2031. This funding is aimed at ensuring teachers do not fall short in supply to the rising number of student enrolments in second-level education in Ireland.
The ring-fenced funding for PME students was introduced three years ago in the ‘Action Plan for Teacher Supply’. Created by the then-Minister for Education and Skills, Joe McHugh, the plan “commits to exploring the provision of additional supports for post-graduate initial teacher training”. This funding is “in tandem with benefits available under the student grant scheme for the most disadvantaged post-graduate students”.
Harris explained how he hoped this support would address the teacher supply issues, assist students to pursue their ambition of becoming a post-primary school teacher, and also increase diversity in the teaching profession. “Teachers are key role models in communities and it is important that our teaching profession reflects the diversity of our wider population.”
The Student Union Graduate Officer, Carla Gummerson, believes that the funding has allowed for increased diversity on campus but thinks that there is always room for improvement. She also considers the funding to be a great resource for PME students but worries that it will not be enough. “Teachers more than ever will be needed as we face these unprecedented times. Every effort needs to be made to ensure that student teachers are fully supported to engage with their students.”
USI Deputy President and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kevin McStravock said “The Union of Students in Ireland welcomes the continuation of ring-fenced Student Assistance Funding for PME students.” He noted that “it is important to note that short-term funding made available on a year-to-year basis is not the most effective way to increase diversity in the teaching profession. This funding is also only available to some student teachers, as students on undergraduate teacher education programmes are not eligible to avail of this one million euro.”
He added, “We believe real diversity would be better achieved through a comprehensive review of all funding supports available at third-level, particularly the SUSI grant, which requires significant investment and which is only available in a limited form for postgraduate students currently.” McStravock concluded that there is a need to address other barriers for student teachers, such as unpaid placements, which also impact access to the profession. However, he insists that the USI is committed to working with the Minister, his department, and the wider sector to find solutions to address these barriers.
The College Tribune reached out to the UCD School of Graduate Studies to ask whether they expect more diversity among PME students from the introduction of this funding but did not comment by the time of publishing.
Emma Hanrahan – Reporter