Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
I fully support the motion. There are so many issues of serious concern to students in higher education. Even last week I raised a matter with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in the Dáil concerning motor mechanics apprenticeships with SOLAS. Although the students completed phase 2 of their apprenticeship in December 2020, they are still awaiting the official results of exams and cannot progress to the next phase. The course was supposed to take four years, but it now looks like it will take seven years. What plans are in place for those students? That is the kind of situation students find themselves in.
An issue that is raised with me time and again is refunds for accommodation. The families of students are in great difficulty. I am aware of 19 students and their parents who were asked to pay for accommodation since the arrival of Covid even though the students cannot use it. They must pay upfront and in full just in case they go back to college. There is no system in place to refund them. This is not good enough given the times we are in at present. The same is true of fees. Students cannot get refunds. It is ridiculous that they are asked to pay fees upfront when they cannot attend college. It is an outrage and there should be plans in place to help these young people. Students from west Cork and other rural parts of the country have basically been left behind because they do not have broadband. These are serious issues. It is a case of one issue coming on top of another and students are incurring stress as a result. Students try to earn money during the summer, but they could be penalised for that later and they might not be able to get a grant from SUSI, which is terribly unfair. I have often seen situations where the parents' income was just a little over the threshold and the child was disqualified from receipt of a grant from SUSI. Parents are working very hard to pay mortgages and lots of things are not taken into account. It all comes back on the students and their families.
Unfortunately, we will again have the same disaster this year with transport for young children going to school. That is another very stressful issue for families, although it might not fully relate to today's motion. I have often fought in the House for students to get a driving lesson sorted. They are trying to do their theory test and it is ridiculous in this day and age that theory tests cannot be done online. That brings me back to the situation concerning students who are trying to work to subsidise themselves and who must drive to work in rural communities so that they can continue in college. I am sorry, I am eating into my colleague's time.