Written answers

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Department of Education and Skills

Covid-19 Pandemic

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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460. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if a no-detriment, no-disadvantage policy will be established in all third level institutions with regard to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; if no student will disadvantaged educationally, mentally or financially; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44220/20]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are autonomous within the meaning of the Universities Act 1997, the Institutions of Technology Acts 1992 to 2006 and the Technological Universities Act 2018. While it is not within my remit to determine the assessment policies of HEIs, I appreciate that the circumstances of this year have been both challenging and stressful to students, the HEI's are taking this into account in the design and marking of this year's assessments.

I appreciate that the circumstances of this year have been both challenging and stressful to students, and HEIs are taking this into account in the design and marking of this year’s assessments. At the same time, institutions must ensure that the assessment methods being used satisfy the requirements of professional or accrediting bodies, and external examiners, so that the integrity of the assessment process will not be compromised, thus maintaining confidence and transparency in the quality of the qualifications awarded.

The support and wellbeing of our students is a priority for my Department, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased stress and pressure resulting from it.

Earlier this year, I secured a comprehensive package of financial support in the amount of €168m for the Higher Education and Further Education and Training sector to mitigate against the direct financial impact of COVID-19 on our Universities, institutions, colleges and students in 2020. This package includes additional funding of €3m to underpin wellbeing and mental health and student services in our higher education institutions (HEIs), and is in addition to the €2m that was allocated in Budget 2020. This overall funding of €5m comes at a time of great urgency in relation to student support and re-opening of our higher education institutions. This funding will enable institutions to enhance their student facing services, such as by employing additional student Counsellors, Assistant Psychologists etc.

The increased capacity and resourcing of counselling in this current year will allow for the development of active outreach to students and deliver more support and training to campus staff to identify, support and refer students in difficulty.

In October, I also announced the new keyword partnership with 50808. This is a Free 24/7 anonymous text support service. Students text their institution keyword to 50808 to begin a text conversation e.g. Text DKIT to 50808 for Dundalk IT students. Although this partnership with student counselling services was in train before the publication of USI National Report on Students and Covid-19, the 50808 partnership responds directly to the almost 27% of students in this report who said they would like to use a text service provided by their college service and 26% who said they would use a text service provided through an external service. 50808 volunteers will also signpost student texters to their campus and local community supports, based on their location, in instances that where further support is required.

The €168 million in funding also included a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education.

In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students the Government has approved once off funding of €50m to provide additional financial assistance in this academic year. The funding, which was provided in Budget 2021, in recognition of the significant upheaval they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic will offer financial assistance to all EU full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students attending publicly funded HEIs.

The scheme will ensure students;

- Who avail of the SUSI grant will receive €250 top-up in their grant;

- Students who do not avail of the grant can reduce by €250 any outstanding contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution;

- In a small number of cases, alternative arrangements will be made for the payment of the monies to students.


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