Thursday, 19 November 2020
Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science: Statements
I listened to the Minister, Deputy Harris, earlier. He had some good news. I was pleased to hear about the 58 new apprenticeship courses that are available, not only in traditional areas such as carpentry and plumbing but also in areas such as cybersecurity, accounting and supply chain management. I was also very pleased to hear that Ireland is now the ninth most innovative country in Europe. It really makes me proud to know I live in a country with so many innovative thinkers, doers and entrepreneurs across all sectors, building the foundations for today's and tomorrow's economy.
As a former teacher, I am particularly interested in the mitigating against educational disadvantage fund. There are many excellent community education providers in my constituency, Sligo–Leitrim, and in south Donegal and north Roscommon who will make great use of this money.
Every time I speak in this House on higher education, I always speak of the technological university under the umbrella of the Connacht-Ulster Alliance. For me, this is a top priority. I am happy to report that my various contacts tell me that genuine progress is being made and that things appear to be going according to plan. There is a tight schedule but those concerned are on schedule.
Not all is rosy in the higher education garden, however. I would like to highlight a specific issue that has arisen in respect of Covid. A constituent of mine who is doing a masters degree worked last year and now gets a contribution of €2,000 towards her fees this year, but she lost her part-time job because of Covid and will be €9,000 worse off at the end of 2020 than she was in 2019. She cannot avail of the special grant rate, however, because the authorities are refusing to take her changed circumstances into account. She may have to give up on her masters degree. I ask that changed circumstances due to Covid be taken into consideration when assessing eligibility for the special grant rate.
I received a letter from a constituent who expresses in a way I never could many of the concerns of middle Ireland when it comes to higher education. She states:
I am a mother off four young wonderful adults ranging from 19 to 27 three in education and one ... working. One young lady whose fellowship was put on hold in US ... [got no] financial support on returning ... in March. Another young lady, a first year student ... never got ... on campus
In good faith, this student's accommodation was booked because she was led to believe she would be on campus. A contract was signed for €8,800. She remains at home but the accommodation company demands payment. The constituent goes on:
Another Adult in ... second year studying from home ... no placements planned ... [yet] these are our future teachers!!!
I now call my home a mini university, Bed Rooms are ... lecture rooms delivering lectures through zoom. Sitting rooms are ... practical rooms for active/lab learnings. The Kitchen is ... the canteen [and the front garden is the open-air campus]. I pay for ... lighting ... heating ... wifi ... internet [fees, books, etc.]
I am their very committed mother, lecturer, counciler ... [offering support and trying to keep them balanced, encouraged and upbeat]. I am a one parent family who works ... [on the] front line.
Her questions are: how long will we deprive these students of college life experiences? What kind of education and life experiences are they getting? How do we expect them to acquire skills to become empathetic nurses and doctors, future entrepreneurs, confident electricians, carpenters, future politicians and lawyers? She finishes by saying, "My question is simple what are we doing to [do to] support this generation ... and show them we care." She signs herself "A very concerned parent who has not a voice at this time".