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Third Level Institutions

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 3 November 2020

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Questions (1004, 1016)

Seán Canney

Question:

1004. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on third level institutions failing to offer a reduction in fees to students at a time when classes are online and many of the on-campus services offered to students are no longer available; if his attention has been drawn to the financial pressure this is placing on third-level students and their families during the pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32571/20]

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Niamh Smyth

Question:

1016. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on a matter in relation to a reduction of fees (details supplied); the steps he is taking to address the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32960/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1004 and 1016 together.

It is important to note in relation to this issue that under the Free Fees Schemes the Exchequer currently makes a very substantial contribution amounting to €340m to meeting the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate Higher Education students with those students who are required to pay the student contribution paying €3,000 per annum towards the cost of their studies.

In addition, the Exchequer pays the contribution in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44% of students eligible for free fees.

As the Deputy will be aware as part of Budget 2021, I announced enhanced SUSI grant supports for post-grads and increased support for the PATH access initiative to increase participation in Higher Education from the most economically disadvantaged students and a review of SUSI to guide the future strategic direction of the scheme. An important objective will be to ensure access to and continued participation in higher education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I am of course very conscious of the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students. Government has made available €50 million in funding to provide financial assistance to full time third level students in recognition of the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on this group was included in Budget 2021. My officials and I are developing proposals for the utilisation of this funding for submission to Government prior to commencement.

This builds on the specific student supports in response to Covid, which I announced in July including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education.

Furthermore the development of a sustainable funding model for higher education is essential in light of the centrality of higher education. The future development of Ireland as an inclusive society and a knowledge economy against the backdrop of rapid technological change. In that context, a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options presented in the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education is underway supported under the European Commission DG Reform Programme.

My Department is working closely with the European Commission and the independently appointed consultants. The key aim of this review is to investigate methods of increasing the sustainability of higher and further education provision in Ireland, including an examination of the funding options including the existing student contribution and other supports.

Completion of this work will allow for an informed debate on the appropriate policy approach to future funding which is fundamental to Ireland's economic and social sustainability.

All of the foregoing highlights my commitment and that of the Government to support students and learners in accessing and successfully participating in both higher and further education.

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