Written answers

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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233. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if additional supports will be made available to college students who have paid full college fees but are advised to remain home under Covid-19 guidelines; if supports will be made available for students who have paid accommodation fees up front; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30793/20]

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. Further details will be available for student shortly.

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 €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.

Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund, which was doubled this year to €16 million. 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. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

I am conscious of the challenges faced by students in relation to student accommodation this year due to financial pressures and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year. Throughout the last number of months my Department has been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector to address the challenges faced by students in this difficult time. My Department, in consultation with these key stakeholders will continue to monitor the situation relating to student accommodation closely.

Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the license agreement signed at the beginning of the academic year. In the first instance students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached in regard to a refund.

If this is not possible, under the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2019 students have access to the Dispute Resolution Services of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).

I have asked our higher education institutions, where they have accommodation, to try to show flexibility in terms of its use for the coming academic year, as well as flexibility with regard to cancellations and refunds. I would hope that private providers will show the same flexibility, however it is not within my remit to issue instruction in relation to the private rental market.

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