Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]


4:50 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— Covid-19 and public health restrictions have imposed significant hardship and sacrifice on young people, students and all those in education, seriously diminishing the educational experience and negatively impacting on mental health and general wellbeing;

— even before the Covid-19 pandemic, this cohort of people faced very significant stresses and hardships, including:

— the serious stress and anxiety among students generated by the Leaving Certificate and intense competition for access to apprenticeships or places in the further and higher education courses of their choice;

— an unacceptable level of social inequality in accessing third-level education, where, for example, 99 per cent of young people living in Dublin 6 go on to higher education, while only 16 per cent of those from Dublin 10 continue in education after school;

— widespread poverty and financial hardship among many third-level students, particularly because of extortionate rents for accommodation in both purpose-built student accommodation and the wider rental sector;

— the financial hardship imposed on many undergraduate students and their families by having to pay €3,000 per year in registration fees and a full cost of up to €7,000 for many, the highest across the European Union (EU);

— the inadequacy of the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant system, where too many students are ineligible, and the grants do not cover the full costs of education;

— the significant additional costs of third-level education also include textbooks that often must be bought new, IT, vaccines for those training in the health professions, uniforms, travel and transport etc.;

— many groups of students having to work without pay on placements, including student nurses and midwives, social care students, allied healthcare trainees and others;

— an alarmingly high number of students suffering poor mental health and depression, where, for example, a recent National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) survey showed that a third of all their students were suffering from depression;

— one in six students dropping out of university in their first year;

— students who live in digs and private student accommodation being classified as ‘licencees’ or subject to private contracts rather than being ‘tenants’, and not being governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and being denied access to the Residential Tenancies Board;

— extremely high postgraduate fees and difficulties with visas for non-EU students;

— the €16,000 plus, per year, fees for some courses such as Graduate Entry Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy;

— PhD stipends set at a dreadfully low level, far below a living income, even with the increase in the Irish Research Council’s Postgraduate Scholarship

Programme stipend in 2021;

— PhD researchers and other postgraduates being treated as students and not workers, despite their indispensable role in research and teaching in all

higher education institutions, with responsibilities of PhD and postgraduate students having grown as a result of reduced Government funding to third-level institutions; and

— widespread precarious working conditions, with temporary, short-term badly paid contracts for those working in higher education, and with over 50 per cent of lecturing staff and 35 per cent of lecturers on temporary or part-time contracts and ‘hourly paid staff’ not being entitled to sick leave, maternity leave and excluded from the unfair dismissal protection;

believes that:

— after the hardships and anxieties impacting young people during Covid-19, the Government owe a particular debt and have a particular obligation to support our young people and students;

— the Government expenditure on third-level education is inadequate at less than 0.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the latest Universitas21 study finding that Ireland is 46th out of 50 comparable countries for the level of Government expenditure as a share of GDP when it comes to third-level investment, a fall of 29 places since 2017;

— higher and further education is reliant on big business to fill the gaps in funding, with areas of study such as humanities, languages and social sciences, deemed to not bring a profitable return and not getting the investment needed, and the courses and what is studied in courses should be determined by academic interest and not by profit;

— due to limited places on third-level courses, with approximately 80,000 people chasing 52,000 places with the Leaving Certificate, and with the Central Applications Process (CAO) points system playing a role in rationing out places in third-level institutions, the system operates as a crude market mechanism where students are pitted against each other, and as such is riddled with unfairness, especially for those from low and middle-income backgrounds, who have additional needs and face other barriers such as disability, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and is a system that distorts education at second and third-level;

— there is a direct connection between the level of educational achievement and the life and career opportunities available to those after they leave education and seek to access the workforce;

— access to the highest levels of education should be a right for all and that access to third-level should be seen in the same way as access to second-level was in the late 1960’s, when second-level was expanded for all;

— with the ceaseless development of science, technology, innovation, artistic and cultural endeavour in the modern world, it makes no sense to limit or ration access to higher levels of education or to impose financial or other barriers to completing such education; and

— it is in the interests of our society to remove all obstacles, provide all the supports and all the needed investment to ensure the maximisation of human potential through education; and

therefore, calls on the Government to:

— abolish the Leaving Certificate Examination as an unnecessary stress on young people, a distorter of the education system and a barrier to accessing higher education and the life opportunities that flow from it;

— provide open access for all to higher education courses or apprenticeships of their choice, without fees or barriers;

— expand the number of higher education and apprenticeship places to meet demand (approximately 25,000 additional places), increase academic staffing levels commensurately, and introduce more omnibus entry courses, especially in areas where there is high demand;

— end the reliance on big business to fill the gaps in funding from central Government;

— invest to expand further education access programmes, to increase the participation of those from disadvantaged areas, marginalised groups or communities;

— commit to supporting the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Education for All pledge to end fees, cut rents and increase student supports;

— end the ‘study now, pay later’ and ‘earn and learn’ policies and move to a publicly funded higher education at the heart of the Government policy;

— abolish all registration fees and tuition fees for all apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and increase grants and supports to cover the real cost of education;

— return fees paid by students for the academic years affected by Covid-19;

— extend the Back to Education Allowance to cover postgraduate courses, allow students to be eligible for the Housing Assistance Payment and restore Job Seeker's Allowance rates for young people to the standard rate, and extend other social welfare supports, such as the Working Family Payment, to those in education;

— provide free access for all students and apprentices to counselling and personal education services at the point and time of need;

— fund and staff Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services teams, to the levels recommended in Sharing the Vision: A Mental Health Policy for Everyone;

— pay students properly for work on placements, including student nurses and midwives, students of social care, allied health professionals and others who are doing genuine work while on placement, while protecting the degree status of these courses, and work with student representatives and CORU to resolve the issues of placement requirements that have emerged as a result of Covid-19 limiting placement hours available;

— recognise PhD researchers as workers, not students, with contracts of employment outlining major research and teaching responsibilities, collective bargaining rights and public pension contributions, paying at least a living wage;

— comprehensively integrate access routes and student supports from second-level and further education, through to higher educations;

— end precarious working conditions for all academic staff, hiring the 11,200 staff, mainly women, currently on these short-term/part-time contracts;

— urgently commence a major publicly funded programme of building genuinely affordable, publicly owned student accommodation and establish a charter of student/tenant rights; and

— abolish the licencee classification and the private contracts for students living in private student accommodation or digs and give full tenant rights to all students.


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