Written answers

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Third Level Education

Photo of Ruairi Ó MurchúRuairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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458. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he received correspondence from a person (details supplied); his views on whether it is fair that SUSI recipients availing of experience within their placement schools would have their special rate grant removed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27582/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) to determine.

As part of a comprehensive customer service and communications strategy provided by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), to ensure that all necessary avenues are open to applicants to receive the information they need, a dedicated email and phone line service is provided by SUSI for Oireachtas members. This was established to meet an identified need for applicants who choose to engage the assistance of their public representatives in making enquiries about their grant applications.

This service, which was set up at the behest of Oireachtas members, complements the established channels provided by SUSI which include online application tracking, a dedicated website, a telephone helpdesk, email and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Enquiries may be emailed direct to SUSI at oireachtas@susi.ie. Staff in SUSI are responding to email queries within a matter of days.

With regard to the specific application, I have been advised by my officials that the student was awarded the Postgraduate Contribution of €3,500 as per letter of 29th April from SUSI. If the student wishes to have their application reassessed with reference to the Change in Circumstances at a later date they can request an Internal Review with SUSI.

If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a student grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to SUSI.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by an appeals officer in SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal may be submitted to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board within the required timeframe (i.e. not later than 30 days after the notification of the determination of the appeals officer to the applicant). Such appeals can be made by the appellant on line via www.studentgrantappeals.ie.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. 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. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended.

In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student’s local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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459. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will instruct University of Limerick to engage meaningfully with students in seeking a resolution relating to the cancellation of the international trips for students for respective masters courses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and to refund costs to students for flights, transfers, accommodation and food; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27685/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I am very conscious of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students. In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students, financial assistance is being provided in academic year 2020/21 to all students who avail of SUSI grants and to all EU full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students attending publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state.

Under this initiative students who avail of the SUSI grant receive €250 top-up in their grant and students who do not avail of the grant but attend publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state can reduce by €250 any outstanding student contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution.

Additionally Budget 2021 provides further funding to enhance SUSI grant supports for post-grads and increase support for the PATH access initiative. In July I announced a range of additional student supports including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students.

The combined impact of these supports and initiatives highlight the strength of the Government's commitment to supporting students in meeting the costs of third level education.

However the University of Limerick is governed by the Universities Act 1997 and within the meaning of this Act UL is an autonomous body with responsibility for its own day-to-day management and operational affairs. This means that UL is independent with regard to its policy and procedure in relation to fees payable by students and it is not within my remit to instruct them as to the issue of refunds.

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 the dropout rate across universities for first-year students commencing in 2020; the steps he is taking to support students that may be struggling with online learning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27765/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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My officials have spoken on a number of occasions with representatives from the higher education sector regarding any changes to the non-progression rate among students in this year. While precise figures on non-progression are not available at this time, the higher education institutions have indicated that there is no significant change either upwards or downwards in the non-progression rate this year compared to previous years.

The mental health and well-being of our students is one of my priorities particularly against the backdrop of the intensified stresses and pressures impacting on our students arising from their experiences in seeking to pursue their studies primarily on an online basis during the pandemic.

In 2020, I secured a comprehensive package of financial supports from Government for the higher education and further education and training sectors to mitigate the impact of Covid. This package included funding of €3 m to underpin well-being and mental health and student services in our higher education institutions (HEIs) which was in addition to the €2 m funding that was allocated in Budget 2020 and funding that institutions already provide for these services.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) requested that the HEIs distribute this funding in support of specific student engagement such as the recruitment of additional student counsellors, and implementation of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, which I launched last year.

In addition, a Working Group for Student and Learner Well-being and Engagement was established in January 2021 under the aegis of the Tertiary Education Covid Steering Group chaired by the Union of Students in Ireland and comprising representatives from across the higher and further education and training sector.

The main purpose of this working group has been to further reflect on the challenges facing student and learner well-being and engagement as a result of Covid and to identify existing and further measures to address these. The group examined key issues for students and learners including in relation to mental health and well-being, social engagement and strategies for retention. The proposals from this group are currently under consideration by my Department and individual providers, with a view to developing a further sectoral response appropriate to the needs of students and learners.


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