Thursday, 9 September 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Education
847. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he has directed third-level institutes to resume in person teaching; if students who have no choice from their college but to continue remote learning will receive a full or partial rebate on their college fees given they are not receiving the same experience as their counterparts in other colleges who will be returning to in person learning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42677/21]
The Safe Return Plan, which was agreed following extensive discussions between sectoral representatives, institutions, public health, students, staff and other stakeholders and was published on the 15th June, is predicated on the sector’s full commitment to a significant increase in on-site teaching and learning activities and research.
The Plan provided a comprehensive framework for institutions to proceed with planning to safely return to significant on-campus learning, teaching, research and a broader student experience fully supported by public health authorities through the implementation of a comprehensive and extensive suite of precautionary measures.
The Plan fully recognises the autonomy and diversity of the higher and further education sector through the institutions developing and implementing their own plans for returning onsite. The way in which each institution implements the plan will differ, in line with their own local context and physical infrastructure. Local engagement with staff and student representatives is central on these plans and clear and consistent communication to learners and staff is a fundamental principle underlying the sectoral approach.
All HEIs have confirmed the return to on-site small group learning for 2021.The majority of HEIs have made plans for large-scale learning in 2021/22. Large lecture theatres, in particular, will be actively managed, either through applying percentage occupancy limits, setting a maximum class size, an upper limit on lecture length/ period of continuous occupancy or otherwise, depending on local context and risk assessment. These variations are in line with the autonomy given to the HEIs in the Plan to make decisions on the return to campus in line with their own infrastructure and institutional contexts.
Higher Education Institutions are autonomous bodies and are responsible for their own day-to-day operations, management and administration. Any determination as to the level of fees to be charged is a matter for them in light of their own particular conditions and circumstances. It is important to note that the State currently provides very substantial financial support to undergraduate students in higher education towards the tuition fee cost of their studies. This commitment is demonstrated through the Free Fees Schemes under which the Exchequer currently contributes €357m to meeting the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate students in higher education. In addition, the Exchequer pays the student contribution of €3,000 per annum in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 45% of free fee eligible students.