Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Covid-19 (Higher Education): Statements


4:40 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy. I will do my best to get through as many of his questions as possible. I could not agree more with his point about well-being and that the leaving certificate class of 2020 and the first-year college class of 2021 are like no other in terms of all they have been through. I said in my opening statement that I am establishing a new group to monitor well-being and I have asked the USI to chair that group. We will work out further details of this tomorrow. While I am satisfied that we have done a lot to try to help students this year in terms of mental health supports, student assistance and the once-off €250 payment, we cannot do enough. We must continue to listen to the voice of the student and I certainly will feed that into our consideration.

On the dropout rate, I have asked the same question of the HEA. I hope to be able to capture those data and will be more than happy to share the information with the Deputy in writing. I am told that there has not been a significant change so far, from what the authority has seen. I would like to see that in writing, get the data and share them with the Deputy.

In terms of SUSI and the no detriment policy, USI called on me last week to make sure, in the first instance, that we restore the measures that were in place in March. We will do that. Second, although I cannot give a guarantee today on the floor of the House, we are going to look at how we can show that type of flexibility around SUSI. Getting students through this period alive and well mentally and physically has to be our first priority in keeping them connected with education. I certainly will look at what the Deputy referenced regarding the €250 payment and access to university courses and foundation courses.

As to what the next academic year will look like, I hope it will a lot different from this year. However, to be clear, under levels 3, 4 and 5, the bulk of learning remains online. We hope the vaccines roll-out will change the risk profiles of the options we have available. We need the meetings every Friday with the stakeholders to continue to review the situation.


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