Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: Statements


4:00 pm

Photo of Pádraig O'SullivanPádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome today's announcement of €50 million as a once-off Covid payment scheme for third level students. I acknowledge this funding, in addition to access support and additional supports for well-being and mental health, is very important. We can all agree students have experienced significant upheaval as a result of Covid-19 and this funding will provide some much-needed security at this difficult time. I also welcome that a review of SUSI has been announced. Many Deputies will agree the review is long overdue. I have seen it throughout my constituency work in recent months where people have been left frustrated with the process. Many students through no fault of their own have to leave home at 18 and often SUSI will not recognise this or it is very difficult to prove they are independent. These students often feel abandoned by their families and the State and this is something we need to review. Every individual case should be looked at on its own basis.

Another issue I have raised previously in the Dáil through parliamentary questions is student accommodation refunds. It is welcome news that most universities have committed to providing refunds. I understand some have not done so yet and I call on them today to review this. I welcome the recent comments of the Minister, Deputy Harris, that he does not believe the policy on student accommodation is working. I encourage him, the Minister of State and the Department to look at alternative funding models that could be developed.

The Munster technological university will be formally established on 1 January. This is a landmark development for the south west. The new technological university will be formed by Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Tralee. The university will cater for 18,000 students on five campuses at CIT Bishopstown, IT Tralee, CIT School of Music, Crawford College of Art and Design and the National Maritime College of Ireland in Ringaskiddy. The establishment of the Munster technological university will stimulate a more balanced growth of population and employment throughout Ireland. It will also help to make higher education more accessible. This is great news for the region as a whole. It will help us to continue to produce a well-educated and highly skilled workforce which, in turn, will lead to continued investment and attract new business to the region.

To go back to the announcement of €50 million, the Minister and Minister of State came before the education committee last week. Some concerns were raised with regard to the credit note aspect. In scenarios where students would appreciate the money upfront to facilitate distance learning, perhaps to help to purchase IT equipment or whatever the specific circumstances might be, I ask that they be taken on a case-by-case basis.

I want to be parochial on a particular issue. This year is the 100-year commemoration of two former lord mayors of Cork, Terence MacSwiney and Tomás Mac Curtain. It made national news that there has been some disagreement about statues and who is more deserving of a statue, including other political figures. I appeal to the Minister that if possible he considers a bursary in commemoration of both former lord mayors, given the significance of the centenary in Cork. There would be no better way to commemorate both former lord mayors who were playwrights, political agitators and poets in their own right. It would be a fitting way to commemorate the centenary.


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