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Third Level Education

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 8 September 2020

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Questions (875)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

875. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the provisions in place for those with learning difficulties if all third level education is to be online; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22558/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Higher education institutions are autonomous bodies and as such are academically independent and are entitled to regulate their own academic affairs and administrative processes. As providers, it is the responsibility of each higher education institution (HEI) to put in place appropriate supports to ensure that the needs of students of disabilities are met.

Each HEI has an access and disability service in place to support students with disabilities. Students who feel that they may require supports from their institution should contact the access or disability service who will carry out a needs assessment in collaboration with the student. These supports will continue to be provided, as appropriate, where any online or blended learning takes place.

The Fund Students with Disabilities (FSD) provides funding to higher and further education institutions to assist them in offering supports and services to eligible students with disabilities so that they can access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study. This supports the overall goals of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. In 2019 funding of €9.6m was allocated to the FSD (covering both the higher education and further education sectors as well as Irish students studying in the UK and EU). The type of supports covered include:

- Assistive technology;

- Non-medical helpers;

- Academic/learning support;

- Deaf supports;

- Transport supports.

Further Education and Training (FET) Institutions are planning a phased reopening for learners by 29 September and will aim to maximize learner onsite experience and endeavour to provide maximum possible face to face interaction taking into consideration all the risk factors and the requirements of the high-risk learner groups. Learning experience will be enhanced through onsite streaming facilities and blended learning.

The Once-Off COVID-19 Grant (€15m) to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices is part of the package of COVID-19 supports for higher and further education institutions funded by my Department.

The devices will be distributed by the relevant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Education and Training Boards (ETBs) via appropriate lending schemes. The education institutions are best placed to determine which individual students should be prioritised to receive a device on a needs basis and within the terms and conditions of the scheme. In determining distribution of the devices, HEIs are required to have regard to the target groups, including students with disabilities, identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2021

HEIs and ETBs must be satisfied that students who receive a device under this grant have demonstrated a verifiable need for such a device e.g. they or their family do not have the means to purchase such a device themselves. Students should contact their HEI access office for further information.

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