Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Fees
187. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if there are any refunds or waiver of fees available to third-level students given they have been at home studying remotely for most of the year. [30011/21]
While Ireland is operating on the Plan for Living with COVID all further and higher education institutions delivered the majority of their classes online with only essential activities held on site. While it is appreciated that the COVID impacts are disappointing for students who had hoped to have as much time on campus as possible, these measures are necessary to support halting the spread of the Coronavirus.
Higher education institutions are autonomous institutions as provided for in legislation and are responsible for their own academic affairs. Therefore, the determination of the total level of tuition fees is a matter for each institution in accordance with its own particular operational conditions and circumstances in ensuring quality education provision.
In general there is a real requirement in these exceptional times to have a responsive approach to student needs wherever possible and it is important to acknowledge that HEIs have to date shown enormous willingness to be responsive in numerous ways. Students are encouraged to engage with their institution to discuss any issues in relation to their course, including course delivery and fees.
In considering fees, it is important to note that the State currently provides very substantial financial support to undergraduate students in higher education towards the cost of their studies. This support has played a very significant role in facilitating access to and growth in higher education. What was previously the preserve of a relatively small proportion of the school leaving population is now much more widely available, as reflected in the current transfer rate from second to third level.
This commitment is demonstrated through the Free Fees Schemes under which the Exchequer currently contributes €340m to meeting the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate students in higher education.
All students eligible for the scheme receive state support whereby the Exchequer pays the cost of tuition fees exclusive of the student contribution. In addition, the Exchequer pays the student contribution of €3,000 per annum in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44% of students eligible for free fees at a cost of over €180m.
I am of course very conscious of the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students. In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students, financial assistance will be provided in academic year 20/21 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 received a €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 could reduce by €250 any outstanding student contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution.
This builds on the additional supports announced in July 2020 including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education and an additional €3m provided for investment in supports for mental health services and well-being initiatives.
Students 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. Information on the fund is available through the Access Office of the institution attended. The fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.