Tuesday, 5 February 2019
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Costs
240. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if the issues faced by pharmacy students who will now have enormous tuition fees for the fifth year of their course will be addressed; his views on whether the changes will result in students not pursuing studies in pharmacy in the future for purely financial reasons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5317/19]
In Ireland, the Pharmacy Act 2007 conferred responsibility on the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI), the pharmacy regulator, with respect to pharmacy education and training. The PSI is an independent statutory body and is responsible for defining and ensuring the standards of education and training for pharmacists qualifying in Ireland. This includes developing standards, policies and carrying out accreditation of pharmacy degree programmes.
In August 2014, the Minister for Health approved changes to the education and training of pharmacists. This change in Pharmacy education has come about because the regulatory body, the PSI, now requires graduates to have completed a Masters degree before entering the PSI Register and practising as a Pharmacist. The new programme was intended to keep pace with changing healthcare needs in Ireland and offer an improved student experience through its evidence-based and experiential-based learning approach
For those students that commenced their pharmacy course from September 2015, the structure of the pharmacist qualification changed from a four-year Bachelor degree programme followed by a one-year Internship Programme (which resulted in the award of a Level 9 degree) to a five-year fully integrated pharmacy degree programme.
This programme structure supports the dispersal of placements throughout the five years (rather than focussed on the final year) and culminates in the award of a Masters in Pharmacy (M. Pharm) following successful completion of the fifth year.
State funding under the Free Fees initiative is available for undergraduate awards only. In practice, this means that the first four years of the pharmacy programme are funded for those students who satisfy the Free Fees criteria. A full tuition fee is then payable by all students for the final year of the programme, as this is a postgraduate Level 9 award.
SUSI grant support is available for those students who meet the qualifying criteria such as means, residency, nationality and progression. Different supports are available to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Qualifying students attending integrated/intercalated courses, will be initially assessed in respect of the undergraduate portion of the course. A separate application will be required in respect of the portion of the course deemed to be the postgraduate element.
Any students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended.
In addition, tax relief is available on postgraduate tuition fees paid. Details in relation to this relief are available from the Revenue Commissioners.