Written answers

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Education

Rose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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164. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views on whether many third-level students face challenges during the Covid-19 restrictions, such as issues of mental health and well-being, access to on-campus support services, challenging home lives and access to the internet for remote learning; if she has considered encouraging third-level institutions to consider allowing students to use work done during the year to contribute towards their final grade, particularly for students that for a variety of reasons failed their final exam in the summer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17795/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The wellbeing of third-level students is a priority of this Department and work is ongoing to enhance student supports in the areas of mental health, well-being, and connectivity. The €168 million package of supports for further and higher education institutions and students, announced this week, includes €15m to assist students to access technology such as laptops and €3m for student mental health and well-being. These supports are additional to work already ongoing in these areas.

In the area of mental health and well-being, a National Framework on Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention has recently been developed by a working group, which included representatives from the HEA, USI, National Office of Suicide Prevention, Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland, the HSE as well as from the Department. It is expected that the Framework will be published in the coming weeks, thus providing an invaluable resource to the third-level institutions.

In Budget 2020 funding of €2 million was provided by the Government for student mental health and wellbeing initiatives in the higher education sector. Each higher education institution will benefit from this funding, which will enable them to enhance the range of services they are currently offering to their students. The objective of the initiative is to enhance the capacity, for example by providing funding for the recruitment of additional counsellors, and to reduce waiting time for students by supplementing the funding that institutions already invest in the provision of services to students.

A working group has been established to examine connectivity issues impacting on further and higher education. The group’s key aims are to identify connectivity challenges in relation to broadband, data, networks and devices, to develop solutions for challenges and work through their resolution with third parties and to provide advice and guidance to other groups in relation to technology and connectivity. The group has facilitated the distribution of devices to learners in need, and the provision of student-friendly data packages for those with connectivity issues. It is also exploring longer term provision of devices and student-friendly mobile packages.

In relation to third-level examinations, higher education institutions are autonomous institutions with regard to management of their academic affairs, including their assessment of students. As such, neither I nor my Department have any role in relation to this particular matter.

Rose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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165. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills her views on whether many third-level students and prospective third-level students are unjustly categorised as mature dependents in the SUSI grants system; her further views on matters (details supplied) in relation to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17796/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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The decision on eligibility for student grant applications is a matter for the centralised grant awarding authority, SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland).

For student grant purposes, students are categorised according to their circumstances either as students dependent on parents or a legal guardian, or as independent mature students.

A student may be assessed as an independent student (i.e. assessed without reference to parental income and address) if he/she has attained the age of 23 on the 1st of January of the year of first entry to an approved course, and is not ordinarily resident with his/her parents from the previous 1st October. Otherwise, he/she would be assessed as a dependent student, i.e. assessed with reference to parental income and address.

A student’s status for grant purposes is defined at their first point of entry to an approved further or higher education course or at their point of re-entry to an approved course following a break in studies of at least three years, and continues to apply for the duration of their studies.

When considering whether a student meets the conditions to be assessed independently of his or her parents, the grant awarding authority (SUSI) is obliged to satisfy itself beyond doubt that an acceptable degree of proof of independent living in the relevant period has been submitted by the grant applicant. The onus is on the grant applicant to provide the necessary documentary evidence as requested by the grant awarding authority.

Applicants who do not meet the criteria to be assessed as an independent student for grant purposes, or who cannot supply the necessary documentation to establish independent living for the required period, may still apply to SUSI to have their grant eligibility assessed as a dependent student. The relevant information, including details of parental income, would be required by SUSI to determine grant eligibility as a dependent student.

Further information regarding class of applicant (independent or dependent) and the types of documentation accepted as evidence of living independently from parents is available from SUSI’s website:

If the student in question considers that he has been unjustly refused a student grant or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, he may appeal this decision to SUSI within the statutory time limit of 30 days of his decision letter.

Where an individual applicant has an appeal turned down in writing by SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his case, an appeal form outlining the position may be submitted online by the applicant to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board within the required timeframe of 30 days.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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166. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the reason for the decision to postpone the leaving certificate results from 13 August to 7 September 2020; the measures that will be taken to ensure students will be able to secure accommodation in view of the fact they will be starting later than other students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17798/20]

Norma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic a system of Calculated Grades was put in place by my predecessor due to the inability to run the Leaving Certificate examinations as normal this year. The purpose of this process is to allow as many students as possible to progress to employment, further education and training, or higher education in a way that is fair and equitable to all Leaving Certificate students.

When my predecessor announced that students would be provided with the opportunity to receive Calculated Grades, he announced that the results would be as close as possible to the traditional date for release of Leaving Certificate results. At no time was 13 August announced as the date of release of Calculated Grades results.

On 16 July, I announced that students will receive their Calculated Grades on 7 September. This is the earliest possible release date given the rigorous and robust quality assurance checks required to ensure the process has executed with equity and fairness to all students and to ensure that the 2020 results enjoy the same status as those of previous years.

CAO first round offers are expected to issue on 11 September 2020. As in other years, the Calculated Grades results will have been provided to the CAO a short time in advance.

In relation to student accommodation, many Higher Education Institutions set aside a portion of their accommodation for first year students, which may be of assistance to students sourcing accommodation. However while I would hope that accommodation providers would show flexibility to students in the current times, agreements between students and accommodation providers are a private matter and neither I nor my Department have any remit to issue instructions in relation to the rental market.


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