Thursday, 19 May 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
102. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide an update on his Department's supports to assist Ukrainian people seeking access to third level education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25280/22]
I raise the situation of Ukrainian students who wish to access third level and, indeed, fourth level education since arriving here following the invasion of their country on 24 February. How many have taken up places and what procedures is the Department putting in place to facilitate them and to ease the transfer?
I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter, which provides me with an opportunity to update the House. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, I have tasked my officials with finding ways to facilitate the continuing education of displaced Ukrainians coming to Ireland. I am determined, as I know the Deputy is, that these students will be given comprehensive and compassionate support. The Government believes it is essential that access to education is maintained.
I met with representatives of the higher education sector in early March to discuss their response to the situation. I established a national steering group, which is chaired by my Department and comprised of experts from across the sector. The group is overseeing the work of the national student and researcher help desk, which is a potential game changer in terms of streamlining our supports. It is a key element in our response and is acting as a single national contact point for displaced Ukrainian students and researchers looking to study here. We know that navigating the higher education system can be a challenge for anybody. Having one single contact point staffed by admissions officers and guidance counsellors from across the sector is important. It will assist students to make informed decisions about their continued education before the new academic year commences. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that there already have been 250 calls and emails to the help desk from students and researchers looking for assistance.
In addition, at the request of the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, Ireland has committed to conducting the Ukrainian higher education entrance examinations this summer for students looking to access higher education in Ukraine.
My officials are engaging with their counterparts at the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and the members of the steering group on how best to facilitate this. My officials continue to monitor the situation and I meet them every Friday to discuss this matter. My Department stands ready to continue to put in place the necessary measures to ensure that we fulfil our commitment to those fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Being truthful, the immediate front-line response from my Department has been around the provision of English-language classes throughout the further education and training sector. There is a contact point for that now in every education and training board, ETB, in every county. As the crisis and war continue and the new academic year begins, we will see students from Ukraine who are now in Ireland beginning to take up places and others, whom I have spoken to, wanting to continue their linkages with their Ukrainian universities through remote learning. We will work with them and support them in doing both.
How many of the 250 contacts the Minister mentioned are likely to seek places? Is that information available? To broaden it out, can those who seek apprenticeships access that contact point? Will they be supported by the ETBs? Will the examination the Minister mentioned be the passageway to potentially beginning college in the next academic year for those Ukrainian equivalents of leaving certificate students who wish to go to college for the first time? What work has been done to facilitate that cohort of students to access third level places for the first time in their lives in September?
The short answer is "Yes". That is how we will help those people access the education system, either here or in Ukraine. A point I hear very strongly from the Ukrainian Government and people from Ukraine who are living in Ireland is one of wanting to maintain their connection with their education system. We even see at primary and secondary level that people want to continue to access Ukrainian schools, as well as maybe attending Irish schools. We are taking a very individual approach. That is the purpose of the helpdesk. Rather than a student going to a college or a one-size-fits-all model, the student has a conversation with this desk where the expert advice is and he or she will be guided. The student could be in third year of engineering in Ukraine. Is third year of engineering in Ukraine the same as third year of engineering in Ireland? If not, how do we map that out? I do not have an answer, nor does an answer yet exist, to how many of those students will end up taking up places. The numbers of calls has been relatively small so far. We are very satisfied and the sector is very satisfied that it will be able to accommodate people. The direct route for anybody looking to further education is the single contact point through a county team with regard to apprenticeships. This central point can direct or redirect people to supports in the ETBs.