Thursday, 11 March 2021
Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members]
I thank the Deputies for their contributions to this debate. I know that access to education is an issue close to the heart of many Members. As the Minister, Deputy Harris, outlined, since the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was formed last August we have been working to build a strong, flexible and inclusive further and higher education sector for Ireland. Our statement of strategy sets out both our vision of what the further and higher education sector should be and the actions we need to take to achieve this. Over recent years there has been a significant programme of re-investment in higher education and we will continue to build on this. We are committed to engaging in the funding reform process in order to ensure that the further and higher education system is fully and sustainably resourced to deliver the highest quality education possible.
We have ambitious plans to reform the national skills agenda, broaden access to education and ensure that the further and higher systems are integrated so that students and learners can progress along educational pathways that best allow them to develop their skills and reach their full potential. We must ensure that students are aware of all the options available to them as they leave school, so that they can make an informed decision on the pathways best suited for them.
We are taking an inclusive approach to ensure that everyone is provided with the supports they need to participate fully in education. Policies such as our ten-year strategy to improve literacy, numeracy and digital skills are indicative of our commitment to ensuring that education is an option for everyone. Fostering inclusion is one of the core pillars around which the further education and training strategy is built and the national plan for equity of access to higher education sets out a vision of a student body that represents the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population.
This has been a very difficult year for students and the Government has taken action to mitigate the difficulties they are facing. We have doubled the funding available in the student assistance fund, provided €15 million to support access to laptops and other devices and to bridge the digital divide and €50 million was provided to offer financial assistance to higher education students through a €250 grant or fee rebate.
I fully appreciate the sentiment behind the motion and I assure Deputies that access to education for all will remain a core tenet of my Department. The Minister and I will continue to work to create a tertiary education system that can act as an engine of progress and innovation in this country and that provides an opportunity for all to realise their full potential.