Thursday, 19 May 2022
Department of Education and Skills
Further and Higher Education
127. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide an update on the new National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25271/22]
I am happy to give an update on the new National Access Plan - the new plan will succeed the third National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. Work on finalising the next Plan is almost complete. My Department and the HEA has led a public consultation process and has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders in the preparation of this Plan. The New Plan seeks to target underrepresented students, vulnerable students or students who have experienced disadvantage and therefore face challenges in accessing higher education and experiencing belonging in higher education.
A Memo for Government will be brought to cabinet shortly and it is my intention to publish the new Plan in the summer.
128. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the full year cost to ensure timely access to mental health supports for students in further and higher education, in particular counselling services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25265/22]
The mental health and wellbeing of students is a priority for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought increased stress and anxiety levels for students.
My Department has progressed a number of initiatives, in partnership with the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), over the last few years to address the broad spectrum of mental health and wellbeing issues faced by students, including:
- Mental Health and Well-being funding supports
- Healthy Campus Charter and Framework
- Student and Learner Wellbeing and Engagement Working Group
- National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework
- PCHEI (representative body of Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education) and Partnership with Text 50808.
My Department allocates funding to the HEA for direct disbursement to the HEIs. €2 million is provided to address student mental health and wellbeing in higher education each year. This is allocated by the HEA to HEIs through the Recurrent Grant Model (RGAM).
As autonomous bodies, the internal disbursement of this funding, including the funding of their student services, the employment of counselling staff, and the procurement of counselling and mental health services are a matter for the individual institutions.
An additional €3m to underpin student wellbeing and mental health in HEIs was secured for each of the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years as part of the funding packages, to mitigate against the impact of COVID-19. One of the key elements of the above is funding for extra student counsellors.
In the Further Education and Training (FET) area, learners may have access to internal psychological supports from qualified ETB staff. Funding for these supports are dispersed under general individual programme and learner support headings. SOLAS allocates funding for Guidance, Counselling and Psychological Services for Youthreach participants.
129. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will consider having a Higher Education Colleges Association representative at the National Skills Council and Fora; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25246/22]
The National Skills Strategy, 2016- 2025, is the overarching framework for skills policy in Ireland.One of its’ key tenets is partnership between Government and key skills stakeholders, including the enterprise sector and providers of education and training programmes.
The National Skills Council (NSC) and nine Regional Skills Fora (RSF), created under the National Skills Strategy, foster engagement and collaboration between relevant Government Departments and agencies, the education and training system, and enterprise. The broader skills ecosystem also encompasses entities including the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit (SLMRU), the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) and the National Training Fund Advisory Group (NTFAG).
Through 2022 Ireland, in partnership with the OECD, is reviewing Ireland’s skills strategies, policies and approaches. The primary focus of the work of NSC in 2022 is to feed into the ongoing OECD Skills Strategy Project.
One of the four set priority areas for the review is “Strengthening the Governance across a joined up Skills Ecosystem”. Therefore the review is actively examining the skills architecture, including in terms of the role, membership and work of the NSC. This will provide the opportunity to assess how best to ensure that all stakeholders in the skills system can contribute to its future development and improvement.
While this review is ongoing all skills stakeholders, including the Higher Education Colleges Association, are encouraged to feed into the project, at the upcoming national workshop on June 9thand via stakeholder surveys here: .
Additionally, I understand that officials in my Department have been in direct contact with HECA in recent weeks liaising on this.