Written answers

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Education

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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152. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to a document (details supplied); his views on its budgetary requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24647/20]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I would like to thank USI for it's submission and outlining student priorities. The recommendations outlined in the submission along with other relevant submissions received in advance of budget 2021 are being considered as part of the overall budgetary discussions on higher education provision for 2021.

To date significant progress has been made in increasing investment in Higher Education and putting in place a sustainable funding model for Higher Education.  We currently invest €1.87 billion, before the Covid response funding, in our third level sector.  Following the announcements in Budget 2020 Higher Education spending has increased in the order of €450 million compared to 2015.

I am focused on mitigating against the impacts of COVID 19 on vulnerable students. Covid-19 has disrupted many aspects of our lives. For students in third level, it has resulted in a changed college experience.   The resumption of the academic year is our most pressing challenge and ensuring our students and staff are safe is my number one priority.

A substantial funding package of €168m was announced on 22 July for publically funded further and higher education providers under the remit of my Department and for students to mitigate against the impacts of Covid. 

As part of the package of Covid supports for the higher and further education sector I have allocated €15 million of capital funding for a once-off Covid 19 Grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices.  This grant is being made available to further and higher education institutions.  The institutions are using the grant funding to purchase devices to support disadvantaged students who are encountering challenges in accessing devices for online and blended learning.  The distribution of the devices, and the associated terms and conditions, will be a matter for each individual further or higher education provider. 

The package of Covid 19 supports also includes a further €10m in access supports for students. Most of this money will be used to top up the Student Assistance Fund, with remaining funding used to support students via the access services in the higher education institutions.

The provision of additional financial support will assist the safe commencement of the 2020/21 academic year and in order that the sector can contribute fully to economic recovery and to meeting priority skill needs and provide assurance and confidence to students and their families as well as to staff and other key stakeholder regarding the capacity and capability of the sector in meeting critical teaching and learning and research objectives.

The future funding needs of the sector are currently under further review through the Departments engagement with the European Commission/DG Reform. The review is a comprehensive economic evaluation of the various funding options presented in the Cassells Expert Group Report and is being undertaken by an expert independent international consortium of consultants including Indecon and LE Europe.

Since taking up office in this Department and through the ongoing budgetary process, I am engaging closely and considering proposals from a wide range of stakeholders including USI.  I will continue to work towards increased investment in Higher Education and supports for students for 2021 and beyond.


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