Third Level Education

Questions (578)

Carol Nolan

Question:

578. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the status of the implementation of the Cassells report; the number of potential funding options including the deferred payment of student fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6485/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

In response to the combined demographic and funding challenge, the then Minister for Education and Skills appointed an Expert Group to identify and consider issues related to the long term sustainable funding of higher education in Ireland and to identify funding options for the future.

The expert group report, Investing in National Ambition: A Strategy for Funding Higher Education” (2016) confirmed that higher education makes a hugely positive contribution to the development of individuals, employers, society and the state.

The report concluded that the approach to funding was unsustainable, and that substantial increases in investment in higher education must be made to ensure that the sector can remain viable and provide the capacity to meet the major increase in student demand projected up to 2030.

The expert group report has opened up an important debate in Ireland on how our third level education system could be funded.

The report proposed three main funding options for a more sustainable future funding model. These are:

1. A predominantly state-funded system.

2. Increased state funding with continuing student fees.

3. Increased state-funding with deferred payment of fees through income contingent loans (ICL).

The development of a sustainable funding model for higher education is essential in light of the centrality of higher education to our progress as a country. The future development of Ireland as an inclusive society and a knowledge economy, against the backdrop of rapid technological change will be critically dependant on the quality of our graduates.

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 consortia of 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. This review commenced in early 2020 and work is expected to be complete towards the latter part of Q2 2021.

My Department will continue to work with stakeholders on this comprehensive analysis of funding options for higher education and the assessment of the appropriate balance in provision across the tertiary education system.

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

Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (579)

Carol Nolan

Question:

579. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will address concerns that those engaged in apprenticeship studies are facing prolonged delays due to the completion of their apprenticeships through an inability to access placements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6486/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Apprenticeship is primarily a contract of employment which incorporates a minimum of 50% on-the-job training with off-the-job training which is delivered in a number of different ways according to the apprenticeship programme. These range from remote or online learning to one day per week in an education institution or, in the case of craft apprenticeships, in periods of 10-35 week placements in Education and Training Boards (ETBs) or Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Many academic and vocational courses in the further and higher education and training sector also incorporate work placements, however these learners are not employees for the full duration of their course.

Waiting time for electrical and certain other craft apprenticeships are linked to physical capacity in ETB Training Centres and Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Pre COVID-19 the rapid rate of recovery of craft apprentice registrations due to the recovery of the construction sector was placing the existing off-the-job training facilities under stress.

In March 2020, all face to face off-the-job training for craft apprenticeship programmes was suspended. The closure of the education and training sector to face to face delivery of training between March and September 2020 resulted in the immediate loss of approximately 2,200 training places on phase 4 & 6 craft apprenticeships (April intake) and in the region of 2,000 phase 2 training places over the period of the closure. In addition to the immediate loss of places, the return to face to face training in September was subject to strict Covid-19 measures which has resulted in the reduction of available places.

Other apprenticeships in areas which were amenable to remote delivery moved fully online or were modified to allow for greater flexibility between on-the-job and off-the-job elements of the programmes. Unfortunately, it was not possible to deliver this flexibility in programme provision or assessment in the practical elements of craft apprenticeships (Phases 2, 4 and 6) due to the need to access workshops and equipment together. This, with the simultaneous closure of the construction sector, meant that apprentices’ progress through their programme was delayed.

The following measures have been taken to ameliorate the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 measures on craft apprentices and to move to reduce waiting times for off-the-job training for certain craft apprenticeships:-

- An alternative assessment approach was delivered for the theory assessments for up to 2,500 craft apprentices who had been close to finishing their phase of training at the time of the shutdown in March. Outstanding practical assessments were prioritised for completion in September 2020, with over 1,000 apprentices completing practical assessments and their phase of training.

- Craft apprentices who had had their off-the-job training interrupted in March 2020 were prioritised for a return to training from 31 August (ETB training centres) and from 10 September (Institutes of Technology and TU Dublin).

- Additional trainer posts have been sanctioned on a temporary basis where ETBs have identified a need for additional staff to deliver off-the-job training within Covid-19 guidelines.

- €12m has been provided in Budget 2021 to support additional places which will mitigate against the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes and catch up on lost provision in spring and summer 2020.

- SOLAS and the HEA have issued calls for proposals to all craft apprenticeship training providers to identify additional capacity that could be developed for apprenticeship training.

- The HEA and SOLAS are also engaging further in relation to the curricula to see what parts can be delivered online and are working with the sector to see which elements of craft apprenticeship might be amenable to blended learning.

Following the 6th January 2021 Government advice to minimise movement, off-the-job training for craft apprentices moved to primarily online delivery. This approach is now continuing into February due to the extension of the Level 5 pandemic restrictions until the 5th March. There will be a focus on theory-based elements of the curriculum during this period, and teaching and learning supports will be provided by Education and Training Boards, Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities.

Apprentices due to begin off-the-job training during February and March will commence their training online. If a return to onsite training is possible during February, adequate notice will be provided to apprentices, training providers and other stakeholders. More detail is provided on the website www.apprenticeship.ie.

Further and Higher Education

Questions (580)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

580. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will respond to matters raised in correspondence by a person (details supplied) in relation to research and science students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6563/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I appreciate that this is a time of considerable stress and concern for third level students and the challenging and stressful circumstances that students are facing are being taken into account by Higher Education institutions as they adapt and respond to the changing situation. This includes the consideration of issues around on-site access for practical work for students. The national co-ordination group for further and higher education is also meeting on a regular basis, and is closely monitoring the impact that Covid-19 is having on third level institutions and their students.

From the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, significant work has been undertaken by a stakeholder group chaired by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), and including the representative bodies of education providers and students to address issues relating to the maintenance of the quality and standards of:

- teaching and learning,

- assessment, and

- qualifications.

This group has focused on the implementation of alternative arrangements and methods of delivery, where appropriate and necessary, to meet both these standards and, where applicable, the educational accreditation criteria established by Professional Recognition Bodies (PRBs).

The government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business and Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021, Plan for Living with COVID-19, combined with the HSA Return to Work Protocols and ongoing Public Health advice, provide the over-arching framework for all sectors of society for the operation of their facilities and premises in keeping with public health advice.

Specific to further and higher education, the government has also published “Guidance for Further and Higher Education for returning to on-site activity in 2020: Roadmap and COVID-19 Adaptation Framework for returning to on-site activity in autumn 2020” accompanied by “Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)” and outbreaks protocols developed in collaboration with experts within the higher education sector and with the Department of Health. This suite of guidance provides robust advice to higher and further educational facilities on COVID-19 prevention measures, implementation of which will minimise the risk of infection for all students and staff. Further and Higher Education Institutes should adapt and customise these recommendations for their own particular settings, adhering at all times to the overarching Public Health principles on which the guidance is predicated.

As Higher Education Institutions are autonomous, and as such are academically independent and are entitled to regulate their own academic affairs and administrative processes, including in relation to access to laboratory facilities, and as there are a wide range of courses with practical laboratory elements, students are encouraged to approach their institutions directly if they have any queries in relation to the lab-based elements of their course.

However, my Department is continuing to work with all stakeholders to identify mitigating actions which can be implemented.

Technological Universities

Question No. 582 answered with Question No. 577.

Questions (581)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

581. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the progress made to date on Dundalk Institute of Technology becoming a technological university under the Technological Universities Act 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6567/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The development and progression of technological universities is an established policy objective of Government in the context of overarching national strategy on higher education landscape restructuring and this is underscored in the commitment in the current Programme for Government.

Under the statutory framework provided in the Technological Universities Act 2018, two or more IoTs may jointly seek TU designation through a prescribed legislative process. Section 29 of the 2018 Act provides for the application jointly by two or more applicant institutes to the Minister of Education and Skills for an order seeking designation as a TU subject to their jointly meeting specified eligibility criteria. Section 38 of the 2018 Act provides that an applicant institute and an established technological university may apply to the Minister for an order.

In June 2020, Dundalk Institute of Technology launched a new three-year strategic plan in which the Institute articulates a mission to be a leader for higher education and craft apprenticeships, and the engine for growth and social cohesion in North Leinster-South Ulster through the achievement of TU status and strengthened cross-border alliances.

The Department understands that in this context the Institute has been exploring with a number of TU development consortia and with TU Dublin the potential for mergers under the relevant legislative framework. The Department has not been directly involved in any such discussions. As autonomous higher education institutes established under statute, it remains a matter for the governing body of an Institute of Technology to set the institute’s particular strategic pathway within the higher education landscape, including whether or not to seek joint TU designation through the prescribed legal processes.

On 7 October 2020, together with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), I announced the first funding allocations under the new TU Transformation Fund. Total funding allocated amounted to €34.33 million. Dundalk IT was invited to make a submission under the fund given its stated commitment to becoming a TU which it did and was allocated €0.76m.

The HEA has indicated its willingness to work with and support the Institute to facilitate a process placing it on a trajectory to achieve TU status. This includes the services of a HEA advisor on higher education policy to assist the Institute as an external advisor going forward. It is understood the HEA is currently awaiting a vision document from the Institute which will assist in this regard.

Subject to the assistance received, it remains a matter for the governing body of Dundalk IT to advance its proposals under the TU agenda accordingly.

Question No. 582 answered with Question No. 577.

Science Foundation Ireland

Questions (583)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

583. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of vacancies by job title in Science Foundation Ireland; the length of time each post has been vacant; and the estimated full year cost of filling each vacant post in tabular form. [6624/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The following positions are vacant at Science Foundation Ireland:

No. of vacancies

Title

Length of time post vacant

Estimated full year cost

1

Grants Compliance Manager

Advertised 4th February, 2021

€76,638

1

Partnership Programme Manager

Advertised 27th January, 2021

€76,638

Science Foundation Ireland continues to develop its workforce plan. It is anticipated that further vacancies will be advertised during Q1 2021.

Institutes of Technology

Questions (584)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

584. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the major refurbishment works on the north and south block buildings at Dundalk Institute of Technology has commenced; the estimated cost of works; and when these works will be completed. [6625/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The refurbishment works on the DKIT campus will be delivered on a phased basis out to 2023, with planning and design now well advanced.

Work on the North block is due to commence in Q2 2021, with work on the South block due to commence in Q2 2022. The STEM extension element of the project is at tender stage, with work due to commence in Q2 2021.

While all works are currently projected to be completed by Q3 2023, this timeline may be impacted by COVID-19 related restrictions.

The Exchequer commitment towards the overall project is €18.4m.

Youthreach Programme

Questions (585)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

585. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of Youthreach coordinators in the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board who have received payment above their annual salaries and qualification allowances since 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6668/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am informed by Louth Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) that no Youthreach coordinator in the ETB received payments above their annual salaries and qualification allowances since 2016.

Education and Training Boards

Questions (586)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

586. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of external training contractors running courses in County Meath under the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6669/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The use of external training contractors is an important part of an Education and Training Board's (ETB) ability to provide responsive and agile training solutions to meet the needs of community and industry and is a common practice across ETBs.

I have been informed by Louth Meath Education Training Board that four external training contractors ran courses in County Meath in 2019.

Erasmus+ Programme

Questions (587)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

587. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the engagement he had with Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds and the Department for Economy in Northern Ireland on the Erasmus+ scheme and its extension to students in Northern Ireland beyond Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6783/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

In October 2020, I had a productive virtual meeting with Minister Dodds, who has responsibility for further and higher education policy in Northern Ireland, where I advised the Minister of the Government's decision to ensure that Northern Ireland students could continue to access the Erasmus programme.

Officials in my Department are now engaging with institutions in Northern Ireland, and Minister Dodd's Department is being kept apprised of this work. I hope to meet Minister Dodds again in the near future.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (588)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

588. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of apprentices that have been stopped from qualifying or advancing to the next year due to the disruption to off-the-job training; the contingency plans in place to deal with the backlog as soon as it is safe for apprentices and staff to return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6795/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Apprenticeship is primarily a contract of employment which incorporates a minimum of 50% on-the-job training with off-the-job training which is delivered in a number of different ways according to the apprenticeship programme. This ranges from remote or online learning to one day per week in an education institution or, in the case of craft apprenticeships, in periods of 10-35 week placements in Education and Training Boards (ETBs) or Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Many academic and vocational courses in the further and higher education and training sector also incorporate work placements, however these learners are not employees for the full duration of their course.

Waiting times for electrical and certain other craft apprenticeships are linked to physical capacity in ETB Training Centres and Institutes of Technology/Technological Universities. Pre COVID-19 the rapid rate of recovery of craft apprentice registrations due to the recovery of the construction sector was placing the existing off-the-job training facilities under stress.

In March 2020, all face to face off-the-job training for craft apprenticeship programmes was suspended. The closure of the education and training sector to face to face delivery of training between March and September 2020 resulted in the immediate loss of approximately 2,200 training places on phase 4 & 6 craft apprenticeships (April intake) and in the region of 2,000 phase 2 training places over the period of the closure. In addition to the immediate loss of places, the return to face to face training in September was subject to strict Covid-19 measures which has resulted in the reduction of available places.

Other apprenticeships in areas which were amenable to remote delivery moved fully online or were modified to allow for greater flexibility between on-the-job and off-the-job elements of the programmes. Unfortunately, it was not possible to deliver this flexibility in programme provision or assessment in the practical elements of craft apprenticeships (Phases 2, 4 and 6) due to the need to access workshops and equipment together. This, with the simultaneous closure of the construction sector, meant that apprentices’ progress through their programme was delayed.

The following measures have been taken to ameliorate the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 measures on craft apprentices and to move to reduce waiting times for off-the-job training for certain craft apprenticeships:-

- An alternative assessment approach was delivered for the theory assessments for up to 2,500 craft apprentices who had been close to finishing their phase of training at the time of the shutdown in March. Outstanding practical assessments were prioritised for completion in September 2020, with over 1,000 apprentices completing practical assessments and their phase of training.

- Craft apprentices who had had their off-the-job training interrupted in March 2020 were prioritised for a return to training from 31 August (ETB training centres) and from 10 September (Institutes of Technology and TU Dublin).

- Additional trainer posts have been sanctioned on a temporary basis where ETBs have identified a need for additional staff to deliver off-the-job training within Covid-19 guidelines.

- €12m has been provided in Budget 2021 to support additional places which will mitigate against the effect of smaller apprenticeship class sizes and catch up on lost provision in spring and summer 2020.

- SOLAS and the HEA have issued calls for proposals to all craft apprenticeship training providers to identify additional capacity that could be developed for apprenticeship training.

- The HEA and SOLAS are also engaging further in relation to the curricula to see what parts can be delivered online and are working with the sector to see which elements of craft apprenticeship might be amenable to blended learning.

Following the 6 January 2021 Government advice to minimise movement, off-the-job training for craft apprentices moved to primarily online delivery. This approach is now continuing into February due to the extension of the Level 5 pandemic restrictions until the 5th March. There will be a focus on theory-based elements of the curriculum during this period, and teaching and learning supports will be provided by Education and Training Boards, Institutes of Technology and the Technological Universities.

Apprentices due to begin off-the-job training during February and March will commence their training online. If a return to onsite training is possible during February, adequate notice will be provided to apprentices, training providers and other stakeholders. More detail is provided on the website www.apprenticeship.ie.

The information requested in relation to the number of apprentices that have been stopped from qualifying or advancing to the next year due to the disruption to off-the-job training is currently being compiled by SOLAS and will be forwarded to the Deputy once available.

Erasmus+ Programme

Questions (589)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

589. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the estimated cost to allow students from Northern Ireland to continue to access the Erasmus+ programme; if the cost includes financial support for colleges to host more Erasmus students from across Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6796/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The estimated cost for facilitating the continued access to Erasmus mobilities by higher education students from Northern Ireland is approximately €2.1m per year. The question of funding incoming students does not arise, as they are funded by their own authorities.

Erasmus+ Programme

Questions (590)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

590. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if the funding for Erasmus+ applicants from Northern Ireland will contribute to the overall Erasmus funding allocation in exchange for permission for applicants from Northern Ireland to be eligible; if not, if it will be funded on a per students basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6797/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

As part of its decision to facilitate the continued access by NI higher education students to Erasmus mobilities, the Irish Government committed to funding the cost of this decision from its own resources.

Erasmus+ Programme

Questions (591)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

591. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will address a matter raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6920/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious that students will wish for clarity as soon as possible in regard to the format of the 2021-2022 academic year. However given the evolving public health situation it is not possible at this time to provide any concrete information on what the new academic year may look like. I would encourage students to engage with their higher education institution regarding their plans for the 2021 academic year in advance of booking student accommodation.

The Higher Education Authority which acts as the National Agency for the Erasmus+ Higher Education programme, is optimistic that Erasmus study abroad opportunities will continue to be maintained for third-level students in the 2021-2022 academic year. Students and staff will have the opportunity to undertake a physical mobility to their chosen destination should the circumstances surrounding international travel and the Covid-19 pandemic permit this. Students can also undertake a blended mobility approach, combining a period of physical mobility with a period of virtual learning. If international travel is not possible, students can do a virtual mobility for the entire duration of their Erasmus experience.

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Ireland is a matter for the HSE and the Department of Health, and therefore I cannot speculate as to when the vaccine will be available for any particular group of people. The majority of students fall into the 14th vaccination allocation group “Aged 18-54 years who did not have access to the vaccine in prior phases” and as the national vaccination programme ramps up more information will become available as to when this group can expect to be vaccinated.

Whether there is a change to the start date of the 2021 academic year will be dependent on the arrangements for the Leaving Certificate class of 2021. On February 5th Minister Foley announced a new phase of planning for the State Examinations which will include both the provision of Leaving Certificate examinations and exploring a corresponding non-examination process. Bilateral discussion to ensure a pathway for progression for 2021 Leaving Certificate students have begun, and information on these arrangements and any consequent change to the academic calendar in third level institutions will be communicated as soon as possible.

Ministerial Meetings

Questions (592)

Neale Richmond

Question:

592. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the status of his latest engagement with EU research ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7005/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I have had several opportunities to engage virtually with European Research Ministers since my appointment. This is a very important time for the European research and innovation agenda as we begin the implementation of the new framework for European research and innovation policy and roll out our new EU investment programme. One of the few positives of the pandemic is that it has demonstrated the importance of working together to find solutions to the very significant global challenges we face.

I am working with my European counterparts to ensure that we have the policy tools in place to realise the full potential of the contribution that research and innovation can make to addressing wider economic, social and environmental challenges over the next decade. At our most recent meeting, we discussed what we need to do to promote attractive research careers across Europe. Researchers are at the heart of a country’s research and innovation performance and we need to ensure that Europe is best placed to develop, attract and retain the best researchers.

I also recently participated in the launch of the new EU investment programme for research and innovation. Horizon Europe, which has a budget of €95.5 billion, will have a critically important role to play in enabling our best researchers and innovators to find solutions to the meet the challenges ahead from climate change to digitalisation to health.

Regrettably to date, engagement with my European counterparts has been virtual. But I look forward to meeting them in person when circumstances allow.

Research and Development

Questions (593)

Neale Richmond

Question:

593. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the plans in place for a European research area forum for transition; the priorities of the research area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7006/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The European Research Area (ERA), which was launched in 2000, aims to achieve a single research area in which researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely. There have been many significant achievements over the last 20 years, however progress has slowed in recent years. Member States agree that a renewed commitment is required at national level to reinvigorate the ERA and ensure we maximise the economic and social impact of our investment in research and innovation.

The ERA Forum for Transition will enable the Commission and Member States to work together to agree an approach to implement the ERA priorities. The ERA Forum had its first meeting on the 4 February 2021 and agreed an ambitious work programme for the rest of the year to ensure the effective implementation of the ERA priorities. Officials from my Department are participating in the Forum.

The four ERA priorities agreed by the EU-27 in December 2020 are:

- Ensuring the framework conditions to deepen the ERA are in place, such as promoting attractive careers for researchers, facilitating data sharing and maximising potential synergies between EU and national systems;

- Leveraging the significant contribution that research and innovation can make to achieving our wider policy objectives by embedding research and innovation policy in other areas such as climate change, health, digital and industrial policy;

- Increasing the visibility and relevance of research and innovation for society and encouraging the public to engage in science; and

- Promoting inclusiveness in the broadest sense such as reducing fragmentation and disparities between Member States and ensuring a renewed focus on gender equality.

Student Accommodation

Questions (594)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

594. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if a situation (details supplied) has been brought to his attention; the engagement he has had with this particular institution with a view to allowing the students to have a refund of their campus rent for the time they do not spend physically on campus due to Covid-19 restrictions; if his attention has been further drawn to similar situations in other third level institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7051/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious of the challenges faced by students regarding student accommodation this year due to both financial pressures, and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year.

The Deputy will be aware that the university sector has been actively engaging with these issues. As a result of the decision to minimise on-site teaching, all universities have confirmed that students who opted to leave their university-owned student accommodation as a result reduced on-campus activity will be offered refunds or rental credits. The processing of these refunds is a matter for the universities themselves, and any student who wishes to receive a refund for their on-campus accommodation should engage directly with their university’s accommodation office.

In relation the University of Limerick specifically I have been informed that students were given until 31st October to cancel their accommodation and receive a full refund. Students who chose to leave their accommodation after 31st October due to the remote format of the academic year have been offered a rental fee credit. I will continue to liaise with the sector through the Irish Universities Association to encourage the availability of fair solutions to students in university-owned student accommodation.

However this applies only to accommodation owned by the universities themselves. In the case of privately-owned student accommodation, I am urging providers to be flexible in finding solutions given the circumstances that students find themselves. There are, however, no powers available to me under the current legal framework to direct any particular course of action. Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the license agreement signed at the beginning of the academic year. In the first instance students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached. If this is not possible, students have access to the Dispute Resolution Services of the Residential Tenancies Board.

I have asked my officials to continue to engage with the sector and to keep me updated on relevant developments in this important area.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions (595)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

595. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if pandemic unemployment payments will be assessed as reckonable income for special rates of SUSI grants in 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7103/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Under the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is available to eligible students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the terms and conditions of funding, including those relating to residency, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for SUSI to determine. For the 2020/21 academic year, student grant applications will be assessed based on gross income from all sources for the period 1st January 2019 to 31st December 2019.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment was first implemented by the Department of Social Protection (DSP) in March 2020 for employees and self-employed people who had lost their employment due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 establishes the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment as a social insurance benefit scheme separate from other social protection statutory schemes including the Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Jobseeker Allowance and Jobseeker Benefit schemes.

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 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.

All applications are assessed nationally with reference to the terms and conditions of the relevant student grant scheme. The terms and conditions of funding are applied impartially to all applicants.

However, if a student or party to their application experiences a change in circumstances that is not a temporary change and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, they can apply to have their application assessed under the change in circumstances provision of the relevant Student Grant Scheme. The income of all parties to the application will be assessed or reassessed on the current year (2020) and they may also be asked to provide evidence of the current year’s (2020) income.

Any student who believes their student grant application has been assessed incorrectly may also avail of the opportunities to appeal to SUSI and subsequently to the independent Student Grant Appeals Board.

The statutory based Student Grant Scheme and Student Support Regulations are reviewed annually by my Department, following consultation with various stakeholders. It is anticipated that the Student Grant Scheme and Student Support Regulations for the 2021/22 academic year will be published in early April 2021. Students attending college in the academic year 2021/22 will be required to submit their grant application to SUSI (via www.susi.ie) to have their eligibility for grant assistance assessed.

English Language Training Organisations

Questions (596)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

596. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when the International Education Mark will be implemented; when his Department will publish details on the implementation process including the commencement date, details of the public consultation process and other actions that will need to be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7104/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The International Education Mark (IEM) is a key component of the Government’s policy for the English language education sector and is intended to provide a quality framework for the provision of education to international learners. The IEM will be administered by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), the national agency with responsibility for external quality assurance and qualifications across the further, higher and adult education sectors.

Only providers that meet QQI’s quality assurance procedures and standards will be allowed to carry the IEM. Once fully implemented, the IEM will be linked to the student immigration system and therefore only providers authorised to use the IEM will be eligible to recruit international students.

The legislative provisions necessary to facilitate the introduction of the IEM are contained in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 . While this legislation is now in place, a considerable amount of preparatory work is required to facilitate the full implementation of the IEM.

To obtain the IEM, providers will have to demonstrate compliance with requirements on corporate fitness, quality assurance and the protection of enrolled learners, alongside key criteria and practices surrounding the recruitment and admission of international students, information provision, student welfare, cultural awareness and academic support provisions. In addition, providers will also be required to satisfy conditions relating to the recruitment, training and the cessation of employment of staff. These criteria, practices and conditions will be set out in an IEM Code of Practice which will be developed by QQI in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

My Department and QQI will prioritise the work to develop and implement the key precursor measures that are necessary to facilitate the introduction of the IEM including the development of specific Ministerial Regulations for corporate fitness assessments and the establishment of a new national scheme for the Protection of Enrolled Learners. While it is not possible at this stage to provide a definitive commencement date for the IEM, it is my Department’s intention that substantial progress will be made on advancing the IEM in 2021.

The rollout of the IEM will be an important element of Ireland’s response to the challenges of international student recruitment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic for both the higher education and English language education sectors. The pandemic has reinforced the urgent need for more comprehensive regulation of the English language education sector based on a clear statutory basis. The introduction of the IEM will enable the State to take a larger and more active role in supporting and promoting the English language education sector overseas.