In an address to the Oireachtas education committee on Thursday the 12th of November Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris TD, addressed the €250 refund to students that was promised in Budget 2021, as part of a University Financial Support Fund totaling €50 million.
This refund will be available to those who have paid the €3,000 student registration fee and those in receipt of Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grants. Minister Harris said he hoped that those in receipt of SUSI grants will be able to receive the refund before Christmas.
However, it has yet to be determined how the refund will be issued to the remainder of students. Minister Harris is set to bring proposals to Cabinet this week with further details on the scheme. It is possible that the payment may come in the form of a fee rebate or credit note.
This payment of €250 to students is intended to compensate for the move towards online learning. This semester has seen the majority of students completing their classes online which has come with many drawbacks. Last week Minister Harris voiced concern that lack of on-campus learning and prolonged ‘at distance’ learning could lead to a rise in drop-out rates.
Minister Harris said: “I am really worried about the mental health and wellbeing of students”. As a result, in addition to the refund of €250, “an expansion of on-site campus activity, subject to public health advice” has been encouraged. Priority for on campus activity is to be given to first and final year students, those who have most felt the impact of online learning this semester.
This payment is among a number of measures included in Budget 2021 intended to assist Universities and students. Support has also been offered to postgraduate students, with a rise in maximum payments from €2,000 to €3,500. In addition, 14,000 Higher Education places will be subsidised by the government. These extra places will be provided for a number of years, not just courses beginning in 2020, acknowledging the long term impact that the pandemic has had on the education system in Ireland.
Emer Nolan – Reporter