Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions (676)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

676. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of students that applied for a SUSI grant in each of the years 2015 to 2019 and to date in 2020; the number of students that were granted and refused a grant in each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38742/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The number of students that applied for a SUSI grant in each of the years 2015 to 2019 and to date in 2020 are provided in the attached table.

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Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions (677)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

677. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of letters and emails received regarding students that had issues with their SUSI grant applications in each of the past five years. [38743/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Student Grant Scheme is administered by the centralised national grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland), a business unit of CDETB (City of Dublin Education and Training Board), on behalf of the Department. The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for SUSI to determine.

If an individual applicant considers that he/she has been unjustly refused a student grant, he/she may appeal, in the first instance, to his/her awarding body. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by the awarding authority and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal outlining the position may be submitted by the applicant to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board.

Since the new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was established on 13 July 2020, I can confirm that my Department has received in excess of 300 emails in relation to SUSI grant applications and appeals.

The student grant scheme is a statutory based scheme and my Department has no role in awarding student grants it is a matter for the grant awarding authority.

Information in relation to student grant assistance is available from SUSI’s website, www.susi.ie. Students may contact SUSI’s Helpdesk with any queries in relation to their grant application or the appeals process by telephone 0761 087 874 or email support@susi.ie.

As part of a comprehensive customer service and communications strategy provided by SUSI, to ensure that all necessary avenues are open to applicants to receive the information they need, a dedicated email and phone line service is provided by SUSI for Oireachtas members. This was established to meet an identified need for applicants who choose to engage the assistance of their public representatives in making enquiries about their grant applications. Enquiries may be emailed direct to SUSI at oireachtas@susi.ie. The telephone number for the Oireachtas Helpdesk is 0761 088922 or 0761 088909.

It is not possible for SUSI to provide figures in relation to letters and emails received regarding students that had issues with their SUSI grant applications. Please note that when letters or emails are received by the SUSI Support Desk regarding issues that students have with their applications they are advised of the SUSI Formal Complaints Submission Process.

See below table for Formal Complaints received by SUSI in relation to each academic year from 2015/16 to 2020/21 (to date).

SUSI Formal complaints received

2015/16

156

2016/17

136

2017/18

132

2018/19

149

2019/20

120

2020/21

89 (to date)

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (678)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

678. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that courses announced (details supplied) under the July stimulus package have not been offered at a reduced rate to students newly enrolled on the course in September 2020. [38746/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Under the July stimulus package an additional funding allocation of €47.5m was provided for Higher Education skills-related programmes. The higher education elements of the July stimulus package were in three broad areas – further support for Springboard+ and HCI Pillar 1 (€10m), Funding for Postgraduate provision (€22.5m), and the provision of modular courses(€15m).

Springboard+ / Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1: Under the July Jobs Stimulus package an additional €10m of funding will provide 2,000 additional places on already approved courses, and courses that met the criteria for funding under Springboard+ 2020/HCI Pillar 1 but were not able to be funded under the previous funding allocation. This additional funding brings to 15,000 the total number of places available on both programmes. These courses have been entered onto the Springboard+ application system and are available through www.springboardcourses.ie.

Postgraduate Skills Provision: An additional 2,555 places will be provided on 207 existing part-time and full-time postgraduate taught programmes in 23 public and private higher education institutions.

The places are available on courses in a wide range of skills areas, including Data Analytics, Environmental Sciences, Engineering, Tourism and Hospitality, ICT & Health and welfare including Medical Technology.

Modular Skills Provision: Under the July Stimulus – Modular Skills Provision will provide for 11,597 places (which is equivalent to c 2,279 FTE places) on 538 modular courses in 32 higher education institutions. Courses are shorter and more focused and will be offered in a flexible manner, allowing people to gain important skills without taking a considerable period away from the labour market. They will represent a new route into lifelong learning, and provide upskilling and reskilling opportunities for those who need it, while ensuring that they remain close to the labour market.

It is important to note that the funding and additional places provided under the July Stimulus package is separate and supplementary to the usual intake on postgraduate courses.

With reference to the course referred to, I understand from information received from LYIT, that registration and induction of students for the additional places (as funded under the July Stimulus) will take place in December 2020 with the academic component commencing in January 2021. Applicants who apply and are approved for the additional places on this course will be able to avail of the supports being made available as part of the July Stimulus initiative.

Third Level Education

Questions (679)

Emer Higgins

Question:

679. Deputy Emer Higgins asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if additional third-level course places will be made available to the leaving certificate class of 2021, as was afforded the leaving certificate class of 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38794/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious of the impact that Covid-19 has had on the leaving certificate class of 2021, and will take action as necessary to ensure that a full range of further and higher education options are available to them.

Funding has been secured to maintain the places created for the 2020/21 academic year, and a further €18 million has been provided in Budget 2021 to deliver an additional 2,700 new undergraduate student places from September 2021 which will address demographic growth pressures. These places 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 identified skills needs.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions Nos. 681 and 682 answered with Question No. 657.

Questions (680)

Marian Harkin

Question:

680. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason a change in circumstances has not been taken into consideration for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38847/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

As part of a comprehensive customer service and communications strategy provided by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), to ensure that all necessary avenues are open to applicants to receive the information they need, a dedicated email and phone line service is provided by SUSI for Oireachtas members. This was established to meet an identified need for applicants who choose to engage the assistance of their public representatives in making enquiries about their grant applications.

This service, which was set up at the behest of Oireachtas members, complements the established channels provided by SUSI which include online application tracking, a dedicated website, a telephone helpdesk, email and social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Enquiries may be emailed direct to SUSI at oireachtas@susi.ie. Staff in SUSI are responding to email queries within a matter of days.

With regard to this specific application, I been advised by my officials that the student that you refer to was awarded €2,000 post graduate fee contribution. She appealed on the basis that she should qualify for a Special Rate of Grant. In order to be eligible for the special rate of grant in the 2020/21 academic year, the reckonable income must include on 31st December 2019 one of the eligible long term payments listed in Schedule 2 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020. She did not hold an eligible payment and now has exhausted the appeals process.

While her income may have been adversely affected in 2020 the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is not an eligible long term payment listed in Schedule 2 therefore she cannot qualify for the special rate of grant. For student grant purposes the Covid-19 payment has been treated as reckonable income for the SUSI means assessment process since it was introduced in March. This means that the Covid-19 payment is treated in a similar fashion to other Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments such as Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance, thus ensuring a consistency of approach and an equitable treatment of students and their families in the SUSI means assessment process.

Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

Tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU Member States and in non-EU countries. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax office or from the Revenue Commissioners website www.revenue.ie.

Questions Nos. 681 and 682 answered with Question No. 657.

Employment Rights

Questions (683, 689)

Holly Cairns

Question:

683. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the steps he is taking to address workers' rights for postgraduate researchers in universities and institutes of technology, ITs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38876/20]

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Holly Cairns

Question:

689. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to postgraduate students being required to engage in unpaid teaching in some HEIs; and the steps he is taking to address this practice. [38882/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 683 and 689 together.

Postgraduate programmes are comprised of a range of elements designed to further the training and development of students. In particular PhD students, in addition to conducting research, participate in other activities to develop generic and transferable skills. These activities are regarded as an integral part of their training and typically include teaching. Teaching contribution assists in the acquisition of generic and transferable skills, as described in the National Framework for Doctoral Education and the PhD Graduate Skills statement provided by the Irish Universities Association.

PhD students may contribute to teaching, often at a level of 120-150 hours per year over the course of their studies, without extra payment. Such duties, which are commonly part of their terms and constitute an element in an up skilling programme, should not be viewed as unpaid teaching. A range of activities can be included under the teaching contribution, such as taking tutorial groups, demonstrating at practical classes, co-supervising undergraduate projects and student mentoring. Hours may be included that are spent in class preparation, advising, monitoring student projects, and correcting projects, notebooks or essays and will vary according to School/Discipline.

While contributing to teaching is an integral part of the training of a research Master’s or PhD student the core component of research programmes across all universities is the advancement of knowledge through original research, which must remain the primary focus of the activity of research students.

The delivery of teaching duties by graduate students in a higher education institution is a matter for the institution concerned reflecting their independent self-governed status. It is important that the allocation and conduct of such work is undertaken in accordance with the objectives of the National Framework for Doctoral Education and the PhD Graduate Skills Statement in enabling the development of key skills and competencies for postgraduate students. In circumstances where issues arise relating to teaching duties of postgraduate students in terms of the Framework and Skills Statement, all parties should engage constructively in the interest of securing balanced solutions.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (684)

Holly Cairns

Question:

684. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the NPHET advice on restrictions for third level institutions will be regularly shared; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38877/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

In line with “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19” it is a matter for Government to determine the level of public health restrictions applied and the composition of those restrictions.

In “Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19” the following framework is provided in respect of further and higher education:

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Open with protective measures

Open with protective measures

Further, higher and adult education to escalate all appropriate protective measures and limit congregation as far as possible

Further, higher and adult education moves primarily online with appropriate protective measures in place for essential attendance on-site

Recommendations based upon precise situation and evidence at time

In a letter dated 15th October 2020, NPHET recommended that at Level 5 higher and adult education should remain open, with appropriate protective measures in place, with the vast majority of programmes delivered online, with exemptions only for essential on-site activities including practicals, laboratory and clinical placements. The letter is published here: https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/ba4aa0-letters-from-the-cmo-to-the-minister-for-health/#october.

Nursing Staff

Question No. 686 answered with Question No. 635.

Questions Nos. 687 and 688 answered with Question No. 657.

Question No. 689 answered with Question No. 683.

Questions (685)

Holly Cairns

Question:

685. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will work with the Minister for Health to ensure all student nurses and midwives are paid for the work they do in hospitals as part of mandatory placements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38878/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

While neither I nor my Department have a role in relation to financial supports for student nurses and midwives on clinical placements arranged by the relevant higher education institutions with health service providers, I am concerned at the difficulties faced by some students arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, I asked my officials to raise the matter directly with the Department of Health. In response that Department stated that the Minister for Health Recognises the importance of student nurses and midwives completing their essential clinical placements in a safe environment.

Currently nursing and midwife students are not paid for clinical placements in years 1-3 of their studies. Financial supports for these non-intern student nurses and midwives are governed by Department of Health Circular No. 9/2004 which provides for an accommodation allowance of up to €59.70 per week to be paid where it is necessary for a student to obtain accommodation away from his/her normal place of residence. Payment is by way of refund on receipt on certified receipts. Students are also entitled to a refund of travel expenses based on certified receipts. Aware of a long standing commitment to review this placement allowance that was not progressed due to Covid 19, the Minister for Health announced in a speech to the Irish Nurses and Midwives organisation (INMO) on 9 October 2020 that he has asked his officials and the Chief Nurse to review the application of the current allowances in consultation with the INMO and the Psychiatric Nurses Association and to report back to him in 6 weeks.

It is understood that Minister Donnelly has also asked his officials to review the possible options for reinstating the previous arrangement of Health Care Assistant pay for students who are on clinical placements which ran for a limited period earlier this year. My officials understand from their counterparts in the Department of Health that this review is currently being progressed with a view to its conclusion by the end of this month.

Officials in the Department of Health will keep my Department advised of developments in these areas.

Question No. 686 answered with Question No. 635.
Questions Nos. 687 and 688 answered with Question No. 657.
Question No. 689 answered with Question No. 683.

Higher Education Institutions

Questions (690)

Holly Cairns

Question:

690. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to continuing staffing gender gaps in third level education institutions including that in 2019 more women work in part-time temporary academic jobs with the gap increasing in recent years to 71% in universities and 63%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38883/20]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The data quoted is taken from the HEI staff profiles by gender and the HEA collects the data to monitor these trends. The HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education and the Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan 2018 – 2020 set out recommendations for higher education institutions (HEIs), and other relevant stakeholders, to ensure the achievement of gender equality in Irish higher education. Amongst the recommendations, is the requirement for HEIs to apply for Athena SWAN awards.

The Athena SWAN charter recognises commitment to advancing the careers of women in employment in higher education and research, and that member institutions must commit to the Athena SWAN principles. These principles include addressing the negative consequences of using short-term contracts for the retention and progression of staff in academia, particularly women.

The Athena SWAN application process requires institutions to provide information on the actions being taken to address issues around contract type, including what is done to ensure continuity of employment. Applicants must identify and analyse issues which are damaging to particular groups of staff and provide details on supports the institution has or will put in place to mitigate for negative impacts. Applicants must consider issues such as - differences in leave provision for fixed term contract holders; the provision of supports given to staff wishing to transition from part-time to full-time work; and information on promotions. Data is also collected on academic leavers by grade, gender and full or part-time status, the aim of which is to identify the main reasons that staff are leaving and to put in place actions to address this.

Immigration Support Services

Questions (691, 721, 722, 723)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

691. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice the reason the international foundation year and pre-masters programmes submitted by a college (details supplied) have been refused listing on the interim list of eligible providers despite having received and presented conditional offers from 15 Irish higher education providers and awarding bodies for its foundation programmes. [38115/20]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

721. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice the role of the interim list of eligible providers; the reason this list is prepared and published by her Department rather than the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science; and if there is communication between her Department and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when preparing the list. [38114/20]

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

722. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice the eligibility requirements for the interim list of eligible providers; and the reason a college (details supplied) did not meet these requirements. [38116/20]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

723. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice the steps she is taking to ensure a college (details supplied) is not disadvantaged in its efforts to obtain listing on the interim list of eligible providers due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions. [38117/20]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 691 and 721 to 723, inclusive, together.

The Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) was introduced in 2015 as part of a series of reforms to the student immigration system for international education. Non-EEA nationals wishing to study in Ireland are provided with immigration permission if they are enrolled on a programme listed on the ILEP. The Immigration Service of my Department is responsible for ensuring that these students are conforming to the conditions attached to their immigration permission while the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is responsible for education policy in this area. Both Departments work very closely to ensure both aspects are considered in unison. Additions to the ILEP must be approved by the ILEP Committee, which is made up of members from my Department and from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Providers listed on the ILEP must adhere to certain criteria and must have arrangements in place such as Learner Protection, refunds in the case of refused visas and clear policies and procedures for students.

For a foundation programme to be included on the ILEP, it must be one of the following qualifications:

- QQI Preparation for Undergraduate Programme, leading to NFQ Level 5 Special Purpose Award

- QQI Preparation for Postgraduate Programme, leading to NFQ Level 8 Special Purpose Award

- Equivalent awards that are included in the NFQ and validated by an Irish awarding body.

When the Interim List of Eligible Programmes (ILEP) was established, as a special concession, a limited number of one-year foundation programmes, not captured within the scope of the ILEP, were considered an acceptable basis for student immigration permission and letters were issued to a small number of providers placed on this auxiliary list at that time.

Last December, providers were informed that the auxiliary list was being phased out and they were expected to make preparations in 2020 to apply to have foundation programmes listed in the ILEP.

The college referred to by the Deputy was recently granted an extension of four months on the auxiliary list until April 2021, subject to confirmation it applied for QQI validation for its Foundation programmes.

Judicial Appointments

Questions (692)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

692. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice the criteria used and the process followed in deciding the relative strengths and suitability of all candidates in respect of the appointment of judges; if, through the JAAB, expressions of interest by serving judges or other judges who are qualified; if there is a marking scheme or other matrix for this process; the way in which this process is followed in order to ensure fair consideration for all applicants and potential applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39164/20]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB) is an independent body set up to identify persons and inform the Government of the suitability of those persons for appointment to judicial office. Its functions are set out in section 16 of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, as amended. Under Section 20 of the 1995 Act, all proceedings of the Board and all communications to the Board are confidential.

Eligible serving Judges who wish to express an interest in elevation to positions in the superior courts are not currently required to apply to JAAB. Instead, there is a process whereby expressions of interest may be submitted to the Minister of the day via the Attorney General. Such expressions of interest are received on an ongoing basis and retained for any current or future vacancy that might arise. Every expression of interest from an eligible judge is actively considered as part of this process.

The qualifications required for appointment to the Superior Courts are set out in legislation - Section 5 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, as amended by the Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, the Courts and Court Officers Act, 2002 and the Court of Appeal Act, 2014.

In relation to the process, the response from the JAAB was considered in the first instance, in line with the Act. As is standard practice with judicial appointments, having considered expressions of interest from serving members of the judiciary; all other judges eligible for the position; information on their service; and information on the qualifications required, I then proposed a name to Cabinet. In this case, the recommendation was in line with the recommendation of JAAB, following its meeting in March last.

The Government has sole discretion under the Constitution and power under the law as it currently stands to nominate persons of its own choosing, providing they are qualified and eligible for appointment as a Judge.