Thursday, 14 January 2021
Covid-19 (Higher Education): Statements
I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy. I will take 50%. I will comment on the leaving certificate briefly. It was discussed earlier. There is no way the Government can guarantee the leaving certificate can happen in June. At the leaders' briefing, we asked Dr. Holohan whether the restrictions would be lifted by March. He said he could not possibly tell us and that he had no idea.
There is therefore no way the Minister can remove the stress and uncertainty from students other than by saying they will not be forced to sit the exam. Where the Minister comes in, it seems to me, is offering an alternative that would allow open access for everybody to higher level and third level education. He should start now by establishing where the current cohort of leaving certificate students want to go. He should find out where they want to go and see how many places we have and then work out how many additional places would be needed to accommodate them in the courses of their choice. That is what we should do. That would remove the stress, allow everyone to advance and provide certainty. By the way, in some countries they do that as a matter of course. They just let people go to higher education, and if they cannot manage the course, they drop out of it.
Fees of any description are unconscionable at the moment, particularly when we need more nurses, student nurses, doctors and engineers at a whole range of levels. When the ability of families and students to earn income is greatly diminished, and when the quality of the education experience is greatly diminished, how can the Minister possibly justify fees? We should remove all fees.
Lastly, I wish to ask the Minister about the student nurses. I think 6,000 healthcare workers have been out since Christmas. Student nurses will now once again be working just as they did all last year and they are offered the insulting amount of €100. This is at the same time as the Secretary General of the Department of Health gets a €90,000 pay increase to make an unbelievable salary of €290,000. I want the Minister to answer this. One of the arguments he has used is that one can have either an apprentice programme that is paid or a degree but one cannot have both. Student nurses have informed me that student paramedics are getting €28,000 a year for a degree course as we speak. How come student nurses cannot get that? In construction engineering in the University of Limerick one is paid €12 an hour for doing frankly less dangerous work than student nurses are doing. How come it can happen there? One can have a degree and quality education and get paid, and now is the time to give that to the student nurses.