Dáil debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General: Financial Resolution (Resumed)


5:35 pm

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

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak on budget 2023 and on the immediate cost-of-living package that the Government is introducing to support families, citizens and students right across our country. I am very pleased to have worked with the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, to try to put in place a budget package that helps everybody - because the cost of living is something that everybody requires assistance with - but which also tries to target supports to those most in need.

The budget we unveiled yesterday is a cost-of-living budget. It is designed to help everyone in our country. It is designed for the most vulnerable, for the squeezed middle and for those who need our public services. We know that families need support. We know that students need support with their education and training and the costs associated with that.

We are aware that students and their parents are not immune from the cost-of-living crisis that is being experienced in this country and many other parts of the world. We understand that daily costs are rising. It is more expensive for everyone to do the daily shop and to pay electricity bills. We know that students and parents are also facing those costs. Therefore, we have tried to take real and tangible steps in this budget to support people and to help them access third level education and achieve when they are there.

We are putting money back in the pockets of students and their parents by introducing seven immediate measures that will be implemented straight away in order to provide tangible relief for students from the challenges of the rising cost of living. There will be a once-off €1,000 reduction in the undergraduate student contribution fee for higher education students eligible for the free fees initiative. To be clear, students who have paid this fee will receive a €1,000 refund from their university or college. If some of the fee is outstanding, the money will be knocked off the outstanding amount. We have introduced a once-off reduction of one third in the contribution fee for apprentices in our third level education system. This is important. We are also introducing a once-off double payment for all student maintenance grant recipients. Before Christmas, students will receive double the amount of whatever student grant payment they are due.

For our postgraduate students, we are announcing a once-off increase of €1,000 in support to all postgraduate students who qualify for Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, support. That level of support will increase from €3,500 to €4,500. We are also putting a further investment of €8 million into the student assistance fund for the current academic year. We are introducing a once-off payment of €500 for PhD students who receive an Irish Research Council, IRC, or a Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, award. Accepting that it is going to cost more to put the lights on in our colleges and institutions across the country, we are putting in place a once-off ring-fenced fund for the third level sector to assist with rising energy costs.

This is my third budget as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. This budget sees an additional investment of €288 million from the Department for the sector, bringing our budget to well over €3 billion. With this significant new investment, we are now able to fund a number of major priorities for this Government. In my role, I have met apprentices, students and their families. I have met researchers and staff across the country. They have been clear about their requests and hopes for the future of third level education. They want the third level system to be adequately and properly resourced. That means a workable staff-student ratio, decent facilities and additional places and capacity. This budget provides additional resources to advance our world-class education and training. As part of budget 2023, we are providing an extra €150 million investment to the higher education sector over the rest of this year and next year. This will deliver a reduction in the staff-student ratio for our universities, taking us a step towards OECD norms and helping to improve our global rankings. This is probably the first reduction in staff-student ratios in many years. In addition, the funds will provide for the extra 60 medicine places in higher education at an agreed and sustainable rate, co-funded by my Department and the Department of Health. Most importantly, due to the work of the reform programme, Funding the Future, we will fund a university or intuition by an additional 25% for every new student who enters higher education next September. At the moment, we are paying approximately €6,500 for every student who goes in the door of a university or college. That will rise to just over €8,200 from September. I thank the Irish Universities Association, IUA, the Technological Higher Education Association, THEA, and Professors Anne Looney and Tom Collins, my co-chairs of Funding the Future. We have a lot of work to do but this demographic work and the new core funding work, coupled with the money we are providing in light of the energy crisis, will assist.

In respect of further education and skills, my Department will provide 3,000 Skillnet Ireland places through Skills Connect, which aims to reskill the unemployed, returners and other impacted groups for industries facing labour shortages. We will support the Government's climate action plan by providing over 2,000 Skillnet places to provide upskilling opportunities in emerging technologies and expansion of programmes to include sustainable finance, green tech and responding to climate change. To support business through the impact of Brexit, this Department will also provide 7,400 training places through Skillnet Ireland to assist our SMEs to adapt to new market and regulatory realities. A further 1,000 places will be provided to support the digital transformation and sustainability journey of larger companies, including those impacted by Brexit.

Supporting our Housing for All strategy, my Department is providing €30 million funding as part of the budget to increase capacity for apprenticeships in 2023, including addressing the backlog in apprenticeships exacerbated by the pandemic. I am delighted to inform the House that there is also additional funding for social inclusion measures in apprenticeships, such as a bursary for apprentices for under-represented groups, and funding to roll out the access to apprenticeship programme, which will be transformational for the lives for many.

My Department will also invest a further €4 million in further education and training to deliver on our further education and training, FET, strategy, our transforming learning strategy and, crucially, the adult literacy for life strategy, tackling adult literacy, numeracy and digital skills.

Budget 2023 does more than all this. We are trying to fundamentally shift our student support structures. There are many one-off payments, as is right and proper, to help students and their parents between now and Christmas. We have also taken real steps to drive down the cost of education more permanently. We cannot have a situation where this country urgently requires a workforce and society that is educated and skilled, yet some people still feel as though aspirations are out of their reach. Every single person studying in third level today is the bedrock upon which our future prosperity will be built. It follows that third level must walk in the footsteps of second level. That has to mean universal access for all. In this budget, we are providing an extra €75 million to increase our student supports on a permanent basis through the student grant scheme. We are increasing the student maintenance grants effective from January. Students will not have to wait until next September. Effective from January, the monthly student grant rate will rise. The special and band one maintenance grant rates will increase by a further 14% and all other maintenance grant rates will increase by 10%. We are also making sure that the permanent amount of students who will benefit from half fees will increase. At the moment, people whose household earnings are €55,240 only pay 50% of fees. That will rise to €62,000. From now on, anyone earning €62,000 or less will never pay full fees and will only pay a maximum of €1,500. We are making permanent the undergraduate student contribution reduction of €500 for anybody earning less than €100,000. We are also keeping the funding in place for metal health well-being supports. There will also be a permanent increase in the PhD award stipend of €500 and a permanent increase in the postgraduate fee contribution grant of a further €500, from €3,500 to €4,000. These are some of the measures that I and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, are working on.


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