Thursday, 29 June 2017
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Funding
132. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will increase funding for mental health services in third level colleges; and his views on the call by an organisation (details supplied) for a €3 million per annum ring-fenced budget for student counselling and supports. [30604/17]
My Department allocates recurrent funding to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) for direct disbursement to the HEA designated higher education institutions. The HEA allocates this funding as a block grant to the institutions. As autonomous bodies, the internal disbursement of this funding, along with any funding it receives from private sources, is a matter for the individual institution.
My Department also provides a range of services for students in HEA funded higher education institutions, including supports provided by Access Offices. In particular these offices co-ordinate pastoral and academic supports for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Among the supports administered by the access offices, in conjunction with student services is the Student Assistance Fund.
The Student Assistance Fund is managed by the HEA on behalf of my Department. The Fund is allocated annually to the universities, the institutes of technology, the colleges of education and a number of other higher education institutions. The objective of the Fund is to provide financial assistance to full-time undergraduate or postgraduate students in need of such support. The Fund is intended to support students whose participation in higher education would otherwise be at risk as a direct result of financial difficulties.
The Fund is designed to support students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds with on-going needs for financial support and students with other circumstances giving rise to short or longer-term financial difficulties, including family responsibilities, bereavement, family difficulties, accidents or health problems. In all cases, institutions are responsible for targeting the available resources at those students most in need.
Student services and associated activities are an integral part of the whole student experience at third level. Student services support each individual student achieve his/her intellectual, cultural and social potential while supporting and complementing the formal academic programme. Student services can fall under a number of headings, particularly ‘Welfare and Guidance’ which includes counselling services, health promotion, careers service, multi-faith, racial and ethnic cultural support.
AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in further and higher education for students with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation.
The HEA supports AHEAD with an annual grant towards the cost of the activities of the organisation. In 2016, AHEAD, in partnership with the National Learning Network (NLN), published a report called ‘Mental Health Matters’. This report is a study into the experiences of students with mental health difficulties in higher education in Ireland and a mapping of best practices in supporting these students. The report found that the majority of HEIs have services supporting students with mental health difficulties and some institutions have dedicated services for students. It also found that students were generally positive about their experience of these services. Some key recommendations from the report were:
- A whole of campus strategic response is required to meet the needs of students with mental health difficulties.
- The promotion of mental health awareness should be as part of induction for students.
- The provision of mental health awareness training at an institutional level for academic and all other staff including part-time/adjunct staff.
- A move towards a flexible approach to teaching across programmes to bring greater flexibility to learning and assessment to improve access for all students.
Implementation of recommendations is being progressed by AHEAD and partners and a follow-on conference/seminar is planned for later this year.
Fund for Students with Disabilities
The Fund for Students with Disabilities allocates funding to further and higher education colleges for the provision of services and supports to full-time students with disabilities from PLC up to doctoral level. The Fund aims to ensure that students can participate fully in their academic programmes and are not disadvantaged by reason of a disability. It also supports students from Ireland to study on approved courses in in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU countries.
The total allocated under the FSD in 2015-16 was €10.4m. There were a total of 10,486 students supported under the fund.
Beneficiaries of the Fund for 2015-16 with a mental health condition were as follows:
- 91 out of 1362 total students in Further Education and
- 956 out of a total of 8920 students in Higher Education.