Written answers

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Fees

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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237. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide details on the process a person (details supplied) could follow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30369/20]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Applications for free fees are assessed by higher education institutions. Under the Free Fees Initiative the Exchequer meets the cost of tuition fees of eligible students pursuing an approved full-time undergraduate course of study in an approved institution in the State. Eligible students must meet the terms of the scheme including the nationality and residency clauses.

Students must hold inter alia Irish/EU/EEA/Swiss/UK nationality or certain permissions to reside in the state as granted by the Minister for Justice in their own right and have been ordinarily resident in Ireland or an EU/EEA/Swiss/UK state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course.

Where undergraduate students do not qualify for free fees funding they must pay the appropriate fee, either EU or Non-EU, as determined by each higher education institution. Higher education institutions are autonomous bodies and therefore the criteria governing the level of fee payable by students (EU or non-EU) is a matter for the relevant institution to determine in line with its own criteria.

Under the terms of the student grant scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.

The nationality requirements for the Student Grant Scheme are set out in Section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011 and Regulation 5 of the Student Support Regulations 2020. To qualify for a student grant, it is the candidate's nationality or his/her immigration status in the State that determines whether or not he/she meets the nationality requirement outlined in the Act and Regulations.

With regard to the residency criterion, in order to be eligible for a grant, a "student", as defined in Section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011, must demonstrate that he/she has been resident in the State for at least three years out of the five year period ending on the day before the start of his/her approved course of study.

Article 32 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020 provides for a review of eligibility for the award of a grant in the event of a change of circumstances in the academic year, including a change in relation to a student's nationality or immigration status. Where a student acquires Irish citizenship by naturalisation, or is granted one of the permission to remain criterion provided for in the Act or Regulations during the course of their studies, he/she may apply to SUSI to have his/her application re-assessed.

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

SUSI’s online application process for student grant applications for the 2020/21 academic year opened on 23rd April, 2020. The closing date for receipt of late applications by SUSI is 5th November, 2020.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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238. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on college fees for the academic year in view of university and college institutions not being fully utilised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30471/20]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Under the Department’s free fees schemes, the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate Higher Education students with students paying the student contribution. The student contribution fee is currently set at €3,000 per annum and can be paid in instalments. The State pays the contribution in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44% of students eligible for free fees.

I am very conscious of the impact of the pandemic has had on our students. To ensure the safety of our students and staff in further and higher education, the majority of college will be online for this semester and we will provide financial assistance through a once off €50 million fund. My officials and I are developing the process on how this once-off fund will operate for submission to Government prior to commencement. Once finalized the details will be available for students.

Additionally Budget 2021 will provide further funding to provide enhanced SUSI grant supports for post-grads and increased support for the PATH access initiative to increase participation in Higher Education from the most economically disadvantaged students.

This builds on the specific student supports in response to Covid, which I announced in July including the provision of additional student assistance including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education to assist with difficulties in accessing technology to facilitate their course work in a blended capacity. These supports are being distributed through the colleges and further education providers.

Our higher education sector is continuing to operate through intensified protective measures which were announced on 25th September in line with public health advice. This has meant that on-site activity will be minimised so long as these measures are in place. While I appreciate that this may be disappointing for students who had hoped to have as much time on campus as possible, these measures are necessary if the spread of the Coronavirus is to be halted.

These measures will be reviewed as the public health situation evolves, and I, my Department, and the Higher Education Institutions will continue to act in the best interests of students and staff.

Furthermore, the delivery of further and higher education in the context of Covid-19 will cost the providers more not less. The Government has provided additional funding in the amount of €168m to support the return of students to further and higher education and the additional funding provided for student supports will be of assistance to many students particularly those with the least financial resources.

The Programme for Government undertakes to provide a long term sustainable funding model for higher education. In addition the range of student supports operated by SUSI will be subject to review as announced in Budget 2021. An important objective will be to ensure access to and continued participation in higher education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I will continue to work with further and higher education providers, agencies and key stakeholders including student representatives to mitigate the additional pressures faced as a result of covid-19.

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