Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett on Thursday, 11 March 2021:
That Dáil Éireann:
notes that:
— Covid-19 and public health restrictions have imposed significant hardship and sacrifice on young people, students and all those in education, seriously diminishing the educational experience and negatively impacting on mental health and general wellbeing;
— even before the Covid-19 pandemic, this cohort of people faced very significant stresses and hardships, including:
— the serious stress and anxiety among students generated by the Leaving Certificate and intense competition for access to apprenticeships or places in the further and higher education courses of their choice;
— an unacceptable level of social inequality in accessing third-level education, where, for example, 99 per cent of young people living in Dublin 6 go on to higher education, while only 16 per cent of those from Dublin 10 continue in education after school;
— widespread poverty and financial hardship among many third-level students, particularly because of extortionate rents for accommodation in both purpose-built student accommodation and the wider rental sector;
— the financial hardship imposed on many undergraduate students and their families by having to pay €3,000 per year in registration fees and a full cost of up to €7,000 for many, the highest across the European Union (EU);
— the inadequacy of the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant system, where too many students are ineligible, and the grants do not cover the full costs of education;
— the significant additional costs of third-level education also include textbooks that often must be bought new, IT, vaccines for those training in the health professions, uniforms, travel and transport etc.;
— many groups of students having to work without pay on placements, including student nurses and midwives, social care students, allied healthcare trainees and others;
— an alarmingly high number of students suffering poor mental health and depression, where, for example, a recent National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) survey showed that a third of all their students were suffering from depression;
— one in six students dropping out of university in their first year;
— students who live in digs and private student accommodation being classified as ‘licencees’ or subject to private contracts rather than being 'tenants', and not being governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, and being denied access to the Residential Tenancies Board;
— extremely high postgraduate fees and difficulties with visas for non-EU students;
— the €16,000 plus, per year, fees for some courses such as Graduate Entry Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy;
— PhD stipends set at a dreadfully low level, far below a living income, even with the increase in the Irish Research Council’s Postgraduate Scholarship
Programme stipend in 2021;
— PhD researchers and other postgraduates being treated as students and not workers, despite their indispensable role in research and teaching in all
higher education institutions, with responsibilities of PhD and postgraduate students having grown as a result of reduced Government funding to third-level institutions; and
— widespread precarious working conditions, with temporary, short-term badly paid contracts for those working in higher education, and with over 50 per cent of lecturing staff and 35 per cent of lecturers on temporary or part-time contracts and ‘hourly paid staff’ not being entitled to sick leave, maternity leave and excluded from the unfair dismissal protection;
believes that:
— after the hardships and anxieties impacting young people during Covid-19, the Government owe a particular debt and have a particular obligation to support our young people and students;
— the Government expenditure on third-level education is inadequate at less than 0.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the latest Universitas21 study finding that Ireland is 46th out of 50 comparable countries for the level of Government expenditure as a share of GDP when it comes to third-level investment, a fall of 29 places since 2017;
— higher and further education is reliant on big business to fill the gaps in funding, with areas of study such as humanities, languages and social sciences, deemed to not bring a profitable return and not getting the investment needed, and the courses and what is studied in courses should be determined by academic interest and not by profit;
— due to limited places on third-level courses, with approximately 80,000 people chasing 52,000 places with the Leaving Certificate, and with the Central Applications Process (CAO) points system playing a role in rationing out places in third-level institutions, the system operates as a crude market mechanism where students are pitted against each other, and as such is riddled with unfairness, especially for those from low and middle-income backgrounds, who have additional needs and face other barriers such as disability, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, and is a system that distorts education at second and third-level;
— there is a direct connection between the level of educational achievement and the life and career opportunities available to those after they leave education and seek to access the workforce;
— access to the highest levels of education should be a right for all and that access to third-level should be seen in the same way as access to second-level was in the late 1960’s, when second-level was expanded for all;
— with the ceaseless development of science, technology, innovation, artistic and cultural endeavour in the modern world, it makes no sense to limit or ration access to higher levels of education or to impose financial or other barriers to completing such education; and
— it is in the interests of our society to remove all obstacles, provide all the supports and all the needed investment to ensure the maximisation of human potential through education; and
therefore, calls on the Government to:
— abolish the Leaving Certificate Examination as an unnecessary stress on young people, a distorter of the education system and a barrier to accessing higher education and the life opportunities that flow from it;
— provide open access for all to higher education courses or apprenticeships of their choice, without fees or barriers;
— expand the number of higher education and apprenticeship places to meet demand (approximately 25,000 additional places), increase academic staffing levels commensurately, and introduce more omnibus entry courses, especially in areas where there is high demand;
— end the reliance on big business to fill the gaps in funding from central Government;
— invest to expand further education access programmes, to increase the participation of those from disadvantaged areas, marginalised groups or communities;
— commit to supporting the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Education for All pledge to end fees, cut rents and increase student supports;
— end the ‘study now, pay later’ and ‘earn and learn’ policies and move to a publicly funded higher education at the heart of the Government policy;
— abolish all registration fees and tuition fees for all apprenticeships, undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and increase grants and supports to cover the real cost of education;
— return fees paid by students for the academic years affected by Covid-19;
— extend the Back to Education Allowance to cover postgraduate courses, allow students to be eligible for the Housing Assistance Payment and restore Job Seeker's Allowance rates for young people to the standard rate, and extend other social welfare supports, such as the Working Family Payment, to those in education;
— provide free access for all students and apprentices to counselling and personal education services at the point and time of need;
— fund and staff Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services teams, to the levels recommended in Sharing the Vision: A Mental Health Policy for Everyone;
— pay students properly for work on placements, including student nurses and midwives, students of social care, allied health professionals and others who are doing genuine work while on placement, while protecting the degree status of these courses, and work with student representatives and CORU to resolve the issues of placement requirements that have emerged as a result of Covid-19 limiting placement hours available;
— recognise PhD researchers as workers, not students, with contracts of employment outlining major research and teaching responsibilities, collective bargaining rights and public pension contributions, paying at least a living wage;
— comprehensively integrate access routes and student supports from second-level and further education, through to higher educations;
— end precarious working conditions for all academic staff, hiring the 11,200 staff, mainly women, currently on these short-term/part-time contracts;
— urgently commence a major publicly funded programme of building genuinely affordable, publicly owned student accommodation and establish a charter of student/tenant rights; and
— abolish the licencee classification and the private contracts for students living in private student accommodation or digs and give full tenant rights to all students.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"notes that:
— the establishment of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is a clear demonstration of the strength of the Government’s commitment to deliver on the far-reaching goals for the entire tertiary education system strongly articulated in the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future;
— at the heart of this commitment, as set out in the recently published Statement of Strategy 2021-2023 for the new Department, is the objective of ensuring that Ireland’s further and higher education and research systems support everyone, regardless of their age, gender or address, in achieving their full potential;
— the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of young people but, in general, both young people and students continue to respond superbly, adopting new approaches that ensure the continuity of their learning and demonstrating high levels of attention to public health guidance to ensure their own safety and that of their friends, families and communities;
— a comprehensive crisis response has been implemented across the further and higher education sectors, involving a partnership between the Government, educational institutions/providers, staff and students;
— continuity of education and research has been maintained throughout the pandemic with provision primarily online other than where onsite attendance is essential;
— in summer 2020, the Government provided a €168 million package of supports for further and higher education institutions and students, to cover costs incurred by institutions during the 2019/20 year and to provide further supports for the current academic year;
— this includes expansion of mental health supports through the student counselling service, a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund and provision of devices and other equipment to assist disadvantaged students;
— additional supports were provided in Budget 2021, including a financial contribution of €250 to each full-time undergraduate student in publicly funded institutions costing €50 million, an €8 million Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund for the further education and community education sectors, enhanced Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant supports for postgraduate students and increased support for the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) access initiative to increase participation in higher education from the most economically disadvantaged students; and
— for the 2021/22 SUSI scheme, the fee grant for postgraduate students will rise from €2,000 to €3,500 and the income threshold for eligibility for these grants will increase from €31,500 to €54,240; and
furthermore, notes that:
— a review of the SUSI scheme has commenced, as committed to in the Programme for Government, which will consider issues such as grant rates, income thresholds, adjacency rates, postgraduate supports and part-time provision;
— the State currently provides very substantial financial support to undergraduate students in higher education towards the cost of their studies and this commitment is demonstrated through the Free Fees Initiative under which the Exchequer currently contributes €340 million to meeting the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate students in higher education, and in addition, the Exchequer pays the student contribution of €3,000 per annum in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44 per cent of students at a cost of over €180 million;
— a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options presented in the report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education entitled ‘Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education’ is underway, supported by the European Commission Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support programme, and this review is expected to be concluded over the first half of this year and will support an informed debate on the future planning and funding of higher and further education provision;
— significant progress has been made under the third National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2021 and work on the development of a new national access plan for 2022-2026 is already underway;
— a National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework is in place to address issues of student mental health and an additional €5 million in funding for student mental health supports was provided last year, and the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland (PCHEI) partnership through Text 50808 (a free 24-hour text service) allows students who are suffering from distress or mental health issues to speak with counsellors and access supports, and also a Student and Learner Wellbeing and Engagement Working Group has been established to monitor student wellbeing arising from the pandemic, review the implementation of existing measures and identify further initiatives;
— the Government is fully implementing ‘Sharing the Vision: A Mental Health Policy for Everyone’, including its comprehensive approach to improving the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS);
— actions taken to support the provision of student accommodation include:
— legislation to extend rent predictability measures to students residing in student-specific accommodation in rent pressure zones and to bring student accommodation under the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), giving students access to the RTB’s dispute resolution procedures;
— empowering the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) to lend directly to higher education institutions for the development of new student accommodation, with a total of €157 million in loans for higher education institutions approved by the HFA; and
— the active engagement by the university sector on accommodation refunds, with all universities confirming that students who opted to leave their university-owned student accommodation as a result of reduced on-campus activity will be offered refunds or rental credits;
— the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is finalising its report on reform of the Senior Cycle, and this review will encompass the wider purposes of the Senior Cycle including the aim that it should continue to educate the whole person and help every student to become more enriched, engaged and competent as they further develop their knowledge, skills, values and dispositions in an integrated way, reflecting the fact that higher education is just one of the pathways that students follow after completion of the Leaving Certificate;
— the Government strongly recognises the value and benefit of an integrated tertiary education system with the availability of diverse pathways for all learners and is committed to promoting the complementary roles of further and higher education and facilitating enhanced information for school-leavers and for all seeking learning opportunities, providing a wider choice at transition points and enabling progression pathways across and between different institutions;
— the Government continues to invest to provide additional student places in higher education, with €18 million provided in Budget 2021 for this purpose for the academic year commencing September 2021, resulting in overall investment of nearly €80 million to address demographic pressures since 2018, ensuring that a higher proportion of Central Applications Process (CAO) applicants secure a place on one of their top three CAO options, and these places to meet demographic need are in addition to the 1,330 additional places commencing in 2021, funded through the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 2, which will be on undergraduate courses in areas of priority skills needs;
— the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is working with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), higher education institutions, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) and professional regulators, to identify further interventions that may be required to assist with additional places, and the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will update the Government on this in April;
— the Government will shortly finalise an action plan on apprenticeships, promoting uptake in a growing range of apprenticeships as an attractive educational and career choice for increasing numbers of young people;
— a Researcher Career Development Framework has been introduced by the universities and Budget 2021 provided funding for increased opportunities for early career researchers and a 16 per cent increase in the Irish Research Council’s Postgraduate Scholarship Programme stipend;
— the Minister has advised the House that his Department is engaged with the HEA and sectoral stakeholders, to gather information on the teaching duties of PhD students and relevant funding arrangements and consideration will be given to this matter by a sub-group of the National Advisory Forum for Ireland’s National Framework for Doctoral Education;
— the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are currently updating the Employment Control Framework within which individual higher education institutions manage their staffing;
— legislative proposals to reform the Higher Education Authority Act 1971 will be brought forward, to ensure that the higher education sector is enabled to meet the vision for an excellent higher education and research system which is innovative, adaptive and inclusive and which contributes to social, economic and cultural development; and
— this comprehensive programme of reforms clearly demonstrates the Government’s ambition for a high-quality tertiary education system which supports everyone to achieve their full potential."
- (Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science)

I must now deal with a postponed division relating to the motion regarding young people and access to further and higher education. On Thursday, 11 March 2021, on the question that the amendment to the motion be agreed to, a division was claimed and in accordance with Standing Order 80(2), that division must be taken now.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 84; Níl, 56; Staon, 0.

  • Berry, Cathal.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Browne, James.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Carroll MacNeill, Jennifer.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Costello, Patrick.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Crowe, Cathal.
  • Devlin, Cormac.
  • Dillon, Alan.
  • Duffy, Francis Noel.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frankie.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flaherty, Joe.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Foley, Norma.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Higgins, Emer.
  • Hourigan, Neasa.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • Leddin, Brian.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Matthews, Steven.
  • McAuliffe, Paul.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Murphy, Verona.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noonan, Malcolm.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Brien, Joe.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Connor, James.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • O'Gorman, Roderic.
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher.
  • O'Sullivan, Pádraig.
  • Ó Cathasaigh, Marc.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Shanahan, Matt.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smyth, Niamh.
  • Smyth, Ossian.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Varadkar, Leo.

Níl

  • Andrews, Chris.
  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Cairns, Holly.
  • Carthy, Matt.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Cronin, Réada.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Pa.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Paul.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Farrell, Mairéad.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Gannon, Gary.
  • Gould, Thomas.
  • Guirke, Johnny.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • Kerrane, Claire.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Mythen, Johnny.
  • Nash, Ged.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • O'Callaghan, Cian.
  • O'Donoghue, Richard.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Rourke, Darren.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Murchú, Ruairí.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Patricia.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Smith, Duncan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Tully, Pauline.
  • Ward, Mark.
  • Whitmore, Jennifer.
  • Wynne, Violet-Anne.

Staon

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers; Níl, Deputies Mick Barry and Richard Boyd Barrett.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.