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Wednesday, 21 Apr 2021

Written Answers Nos. 1257-1277

Seirbhísí Cúram Leanaí

Questions (1257)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

1257. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Leanaí, Comhionannais, Míchumais, Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige cén fáth gur mhol a Roinn do sholáthraí seirbhísí cúraim leanaí Gaeilge ráiteas físe trí Bhéarla amháin ón Aire ar an 12 Aibreán 2021 a scaipeadh ar fhoireann na seirbhíse agus teaghlaigh Ghaeltachta a bhaineann úsáid as an tseirbhís; cén fáth nár cuireadh fotheidil Ghaeilge leis an bhfíseán a fhad is a cuireadh fotheidil Bhéarla leis chun freastal ar phobal labhartha na Gaeilge; agus an admhaíonn sé go raibh an moladh agus an teachtaireacht seo ag brú Béarla ar mhuintir na Gaeltachta agus pobal labhartha na Gaeilge. [20410/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Déanann mo Roinn a dícheall na seirbhísí luathfhoghlama agus cúram leanaí atá ag feidhmiú trí Ghaeilge a éascú agus a thacú. Creidim gur rud an-luachmhar é tacaíocht a thabhairt don soláthar seirbhísí trí Ghaeilge do leanaí óga. Tá ról tábhachtach ag na naíonraí agus na naíolanna anseo freisin, go háirithe ó thaobh Gaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo.

Cé nach féidir gach acmhainn a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge, bíonn mo Roinn i gcónaí ag iarraidh an oiread ábhar agus is féidir a chur ar fáil go dátheangach. Mar shampla, nuair a tharla an dúnadh san earnáil fhoghlaim agus chúram na luath-óige de bharr phaindéim Covid-19 bhí an Roinn i dteagmháil le heagraíochtaí Gaeilge agus cuireadh acmhainní suntasacha ar fáil ar líne do thuismitheoirí, do sholáthraithe agus do chleachtóirí san earnáil. Bhí na hábhair seo ar fáil i mBéarla agus i nGaeilge araon. Le déanaí ó thaobh athoscailt na seirbhísí a tharla i mí an Mhárta 2021, cuireadh póstaeir agus físeáin ar fáil i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla mar threoir do na seirbhísí, agus cuireadh an “Mol Réamhscoile sa Bhaile” ar shuíomh Na Chéad 5 ar fáil i nGaeilge.

Tuigeann mo Roinn an ról tábhachtach a bhaineann le hoideachas luathbhlianta chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn, agus mar gheall air sin tá mo Roinn tiomanta tacaíocht a thabhairt do na seirbhísí a bhíonn ag feidhmiú trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Leanfaidh mo Roinn ag déanamh a dícheall chun feabhas a chur ar na hábhair atá ar fáil i nGaeilge agus chun cur leo ag an am céanna, agus i gcónaí bíonn an Roinn ag comhoibriú leis na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge ina thaobh seo.

Seirbhísí Cúram Leanaí

Questions (1258)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

1258. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Leanaí, Comhionannais, Míchumais, Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige an bhfuil aon bheartas nó comhghnás cumarsáide ag a Roinn chun a chinntiú go ndéanfaidh aon chumarsáid óna Roinn freastal ar phobal labhartha Gaeilge agus soláthraí seirbhísí cúraim leanaí a fheidhmíonn trí Ghaeilge. [20411/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Déanann mo Roinn a dícheall na seirbhísí luathfhoghlama agus cúram leanaí atá ag feidhmiú trí Ghaeilge a éascú agus a thacú. Creidim gur rud an-luachmhar é tacaíocht a thabhairt don soláthar seirbhísí trí Ghaeilge do leanaí óga. Tá ról tábhachtach ag na naíonraí agus na naíolanna anseo freisin, go háirithe ó thaobh Gaeilge a chur chun cinn mar theanga bheo.

Cé nach féidir gach acmhainn a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge, bíonn mo Roinn i gcónaí ag iarraidh an oiread ábhar agus is féidir a chur ar fáil go dátheangach. Mar shampla, nuair a tharla an dúnadh san earnáil fhoghlaim agus chúram na luath-óige de bharr phaindéim Covid-19 bhí an Roinn i dteagmháil le heagraíochtaí Gaeilge agus cuireadh acmhainní suntasacha ar fáil ar líne do thuismitheoirí, do sholáthraithe agus do chleachtóirí san earnáil. Bhí na hábhair seo ar fáil i mBéarla agus i nGaeilge araon. Le déanaí ó thaobh athoscailt na seirbhísí a tharla i mí an Mhárta 2021, cuireadh póstaeir agus físeáin ar fáil i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla mar threoir do na seirbhísí, agus cuireadh an “Mol Réamhscoile sa Bhaile” ar shuíomh Na Chéad 5 ar fáil i nGaeilge.

Tuigeann mo Roinn an ról tábhachtach a bhaineann le hoideachas luathbhlianta chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn, agus mar gheall air sin tá mo Roinn tiomanta tacaíocht a thabhairt do na seirbhísí a bhíonn ag feidhmiú trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Leanfaidh mo Roinn ag déanamh a dícheall chun feabhas a chur ar na hábhair atá ar fáil i nGaeilge agus chun cur leo ag an am céanna, agus i gcónaí bíonn an Roinn ag comhoibriú leis na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge ina thaobh seo.

An Teanga Gaeilge

Questions (1259)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

1259. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Leanaí, Comhionannais, Míchumais, Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige an bhfuil cúram ag a Roinn i leith comhionnanas do phobal labhartha na Gaeilge agus muintir na Gaeltachta, agus cén obair atá ar bun aige bainteach leis sin. [20412/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

Tá freagracht reachtaíochta ar an Roinn Leanaí; Comhionannais; Míchumais; Lánpháirtíochta agus Óige ó thaobh comhionannais de leagtha amach san Ionstraim Reachtúil 436/2020 - http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2020/si/436/made/en/print

Is é an Roinn Turasóireachta, Cultúir, Ealaíon, Gaeltachta, Spóirt agus na Meán atá i gceannas ar pholasaithe náisiúnta mar a bhaineann siad leis an nGaeilge agus leis an nGaeltacht - https://www.gov.ie/en/policy/d01d9-an-ghaeltacht/#the-gaeltacht.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (1260)

John McGuinness

Question:

1260. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the efforts his Department is making to achieve gender balance on all State boards and agencies under the remit of his Department; if he will set out the changes achieved to date on each; if 50% of the membership of all boards, policy groups or agencies that provide advice to Government on matters of policy will be reserved for appropriately qualified individuals from the private sector in order to achieve a balance between the public and private sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20720/21]

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Written answers (Question to Children)

My Department is currently collating the information requested and a reply will issue directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Mental Health Services

Questions (1261, 1262, 1351)

Martin Browne

Question:

1261. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the investment made into student mental health services over the past three academic years. [20706/21]

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Martin Browne

Question:

1262. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the current psychological counselling staffing levels across all public higher education institutions. [20707/21]

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Martin Browne

Question:

1351. Deputy Martin Browne asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the average salary for one full-time equivalent counselling psychologist; and the estimated amount it would cost to fund one full-time psychological counsellor for every 1,000 students in each higher education institution nationwide. [20708/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1261, 1262 and 1351 together.

The support and wellbeing of our students is one of my priorities.

Student services and associated activities are an integral part of the whole student experience at third level, and these services generally fall under a number of headings, particularly ‘Welfare and Guidance’ which includes counselling services, health promotion, careers service, racial and ethnic cultural support.

In 2020, I secured a comprehensive package of financial supports for the Higher Education and Further Education and Training sector to mitigate against the direct financial impact of Covid-19. This package included funding of €3m to underpin wellbeing and mental health and student services in our higher education institutions, and this funding was in addition to the €2m that was allocated in Budget 2020. This funding provided in 2020 is in addition to the funding that institutions were already providing for these services.

The student counsellor salary scale in an Institute of Technology / Technical University ranges from €52,496 to €89,137, while there are more varied salary scales for such staff in the other universities. There were 235,697 students enrolled in the 2019/20 academic year, which would give a total of 235 student counsellors per 1,000 students. Information available from the Higher Education Authority indicates that there are some 108 counselling support service staff in the HEIs, including student counsellors, assistant psychologists, mental health advisors and chaplains, with recruitment ongoing on foot of the additional funding provided in 2020. Some 87 of these staff would be student counsellors. Therefore an additional 148 (235 – 87) student counsellors would need to be appointed to achieve a ratio of one to every 1,000 students. Taking a mid salary point of €68,672, it would cost over €10m annually for these additional staff.

Third Level Admissions

Questions (1263)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

1263. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if a student that received a higher CAO offer in November 2020 after taking up a third-level course will be expected to pay first-year student contribution charges for both the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years; the number of students it is anticipated will be impacted; the estimated cost to the Exchequer to waive the student contribution charge for these students for the 2021-2022 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18106/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

For 2020/21 The normal CAO offer process ended in October 2020, therefore I take it the Deputy is referring to:

- first time undergraduate students who sat Leaving Certificate Examinations in November 2020;

- having started a course of higher education study in 2020 based on the calculated grades from Leaving Certificate 2020, and

- the student subsequently receives an uplifted deferred place offer for the 21/22 academic year (based on the 2020 CAO application) having sat the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations.

I understand that 632 offers were made to students who received improved grades in the Nov/Dec Leaving Certificate exams (595 Level 8 offers and 37 level 7/6 offers). Students received offers in February and will choose whether or not to accept these offers in Round A of the CAO process, which takes place in July.

In relation to the student contribution, as the deputy is aware, under the Department’s free fees schemes, the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate higher education students with students paying the student contribution.

The student contribution applies to all students on an annual basis, who are eligible under the free fees scheme and is payable to the higher education institution attended. The current rate is €3,000 per annum.

Currently in excess of 60,000 students have all or part of the student contribution paid on their behalf by the State via the Student Grant Scheme.

Typically students are not supported for a repeat period of study under the free fees initiative, however in exceptional circumstances, or where a student receives a Leaving Certificate uplifted offer from their original CAO application following an appeal, an exception may be allowed.

Cognisant of the leaving certificate 2020 process, an extension to the current scheme allows for a repeat period of study in 21/22 where a Free Fees eligible student receives an uplifted deferred place having sat the 2020 exams. This extension applies to students that started in year one of an undergraduate course in 20/21 based on calculated grades and the student subsequently receives an uplifted deferred place for the 21/22 academic year (based on the 2020 CAO application) having sat the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations. Free fees eligible students who transfer courses in 2021/2022, in the circumstances outlined, will remain eligible for free fees for the 2nd period of study.

As advised, the student contribution applies to all students who are eligible under the 'free fees' scheme as the students annual contribution towards tuition fees. This includes students that choose to transfer courses that will require a repeat period of study while retaining access to 'free fees' on an exceptional basis such as a deferred uplifted place.

Additionally, in line with the Government Decision of 8th May 2020, Student Grant Scheme candidates shall remain eligible to apply for grant support in respect of a repeat period of first year study in 2021/22 academic year, if they meet all of the following criteria:

- received Leaving Certificate predicted grades in 2020;

- opted to sit the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations;

- received an improved CAO offer on foot of these Leaving Certificate examinations results to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year; and

- choose to accept that improved CAO offer.

In terms of costings, my department does not have information on the number of students eligible for free fees funding or SUSI supports within the student cohort offered deferred CAO places in the scenarios outlined above.

Third Level Education

Questions (1264)

Thomas Gould

Question:

1264. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his plans to increase the delivery of third-level college places; the location of the additional third-level places to be allocated; and if these will be allocated to the HEAR or DARE programmes or other similar schemes in other colleges across the country given the current shortage of same. [18109/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am aware of the high number of CAO applications this year, and officials from my Department are engaging regularly with representatives from the higher education sector in relation to the 2021/22 academic year and demand for places.

€18 million has been provided in Budget 2021 to deliver new undergraduate student places from September 2021 which will address demographic growth pressures. These places are in addition to additional places funded through the Human Capital Initiative Pillar 2, which will be on undergraduate courses in areas of identified skills needs.

Nonetheless, there will be fluctuations in CAO points this year, as there are every year, which will depend on the volume of applications, the number of applicants who meet the entry requirements, the number of places available and the grades received by applicants. The CAO process applications for undergraduate courses on behalf of the Higher Education Institutions. Decisions on admissions are made by the HEIs who then instruct the CAO to make offers to successful candidates. As such, neither I nor my Department have a role in the operation of the CAO.

My officials will continue monitor the situation as it develops and I will take action as necessary to ensure the availability of a full range of further and higher education options for the class of 2021.

The HEAR and DARE programmes are administered by the Higher Education Institutions, and any changes to the allocation of places to these programmes is a matter for the institutions themselves.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions (1265)

Thomas Gould

Question:

1265. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he plans to increase the SUSI grant threshold. [18288/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

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

The statutory based Student Grant Scheme and Regulations are reviewed annually by the Department, following consultation with various stakeholders. The funding allocation for the Student Grant Scheme is determined in the context of the overall estimates and budgetary process undertaken by all Government Departments. All proposals made in relation to SUSI grant expenditure were considered in the context of Budget 2021, having regard to overall resource constraints and other competing demands in the further and higher education sector.

The assessment of means under the student grant scheme is based on gross income from all sources, with certain social welfare and health service executive payments being exempt. The assessment of income from the same starting point is deemed to be fair and reasonable because this approach eliminates any distortion which might arise from different spending decisions in different households. The Student Grant Scheme provides for different levels of income thresholds where families have (i) less than 4 dependent children (ii) between 4 and 7 dependent children and (iii) 8 or more dependent children. In recognition of the additional cost to families where more than one person is attending college, income thresholds may also be increased by up to €4,830 for each additional family member attending college at the same time. In this way, the Student Grant Scheme is responsive to the individual circumstances of particular families.

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 income annualised.. SUSI requires evidence of current income as well as confirmation that the change is not a temporary change and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Following such a review, the applicant may fall within the thresholds to become eligible for grant assistance or be entitled to an increased rate of grant or the special rate of grant. The applicant can request a review by contacting the SUSI Support Desk at 0761 087 874 or emailing support@susi.ie.

The Programme for Government committed to addressing the gap in postgraduate grants. From September 2021 the postgraduate fee income threshold will increase to €54,240 from €31,500 from September 2021 and the postgraduate fee grant will increase to €3,500 from €2,000. This increase will allay some of the costs for postgraduate study and would give greater certainty for students in terms of supports.

SUSI’s online application process is now open for renewal applications for the 2021/22 academic year. New grant applicants will be able to apply from April 22nd. 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.

The Programme for Government also contains commitments to, among other things, review SUSI eligibility criteria and adjacency rates. The review of the Student Grant Scheme is currently underway and is due to report in Summer 2021. At this point I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the review to indicate when any proposed changes will come into effect.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, the Deputy will be aware that in July I announced a funding package of €168m for the return to education. This package includes a €10m access support package for higher education students. I have approved the allocation of €8.1m of this funding to top up the Student Assistance Fund (SAF). The SAF assists students in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Institutions have the autonomy to maximise the flexibility in the Student Assistance Fund to enable HEIs to support students during the COVID-19 situation. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.

In addition, 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

Student Support Schemes

Questions (1266)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

1266. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if an application for the DARE scheme by a student (details supplied) will be accepted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18317/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) scheme, which offers reduced points places to school leavers who as a result of having a disability have experienced additional educational challenges in second level education, is operated by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) www.iua.ie. The IUA set the policy criteria for the scheme.

Applications to the scheme are submitted to the Central Applications Office (CAO) who coordinate the scheme for participating institutions. As such, The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science has no role in the policy criteria or operation of the scheme.

Enquiries can be directed to the CAO (www.cao.ie ) through the ‘contact us’ facility where the DARE co-ordinator will respond directly and advise appropriately.

Student Grant Scheme

Questions (1267)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1267. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the number of third-level students who are not in receipt of a SUSI grant and received the €250 once-off Covid-19 payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18318/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students, financial assistance will be provided in academic year 20/21 to all students who avail of SUSI grants and to all EU full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students attending publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state.

The scheme will ensure students;

- Who avail of the SUSI grant will receive €250 top-up in their grant;

- Students who do not avail of the grant but attend publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state can reduce by €250 any outstanding contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution;

- In a small number of cases, alternative arrangements will be made for the payment of the monies to students.

The scheme will provide financial assistance to all eligible full time third level students in recognition of the significant upheaval they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the options are designed to ensure students who are not in receipt of SUSI will benefit from the measure.

For non-SUSI students, a key administrative feature of the fund is that it is was implemented with the assistance of individual publicly funded institutions in the State under the remit of my Department with the credit distributed to students before the end of the 2020/2021 academic year.

It is estimated that in the order of 116,500 Non-SUSI students have received €250 COVID Student Support funding credits through their higher education institutions.

The department will be working with SUSI, the HEA and institutions in the coming weeks to confirm the final number of students that received this support.

Student Universal Support Ireland

Questions (1268, 1269)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1268. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his views on whether it is fair that SUSI recipients of the Covid student support payment are specifically exempt from tax however the non-SUSI payment is considered as income for tax purposes for non-SUSI recipients. [18319/21]

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Mattie McGrath

Question:

1269. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will provide further clarification on a matter (details supplied); the students classified as the majority; and the basis on which a student is considered tax liable. [18320/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1268 and 1269 together.

In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students, financial assistance will be provided in academic year 20/21 to all students who avail of SUSI grants and to all EU full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students attending publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state.

The scheme will ensure students;

- Who avail of the SUSI grant will receive €250 top-up in their grant;

- Students who do not avail of the grant but attend publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state can reduce by €250 any outstanding contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution;

- In a small number of cases, alternative arrangements will be made for the payment of the monies to students.

The scheme will provide financial assistance to all eligible full time third level students in recognition of the significant upheaval they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the options are designed to ensure students who are not in receipt of SUSI will benefit from the measure. The credit will be distributed to students before the end of the 2020/2021 academic year.

SUSI payments, including this once-off additional €250 payment, are specifically exempt from tax.

While the operation of support measures for third level students is a function of this department, tax matters are a function of the Revenue Commissioners. In this regard department officials sought the advice of the Revenue Commissioners who advised that the provision of €250 to non SUSI eligible students is income for tax purposes but would not give rise to a tax liability for the majority of full-time students.

Individual students are advised to contact the Revenue Commissioners directly if they have any queries on their tax requirements.

Third Level Examinations

Questions (1270)

Dara Calleary

Question:

1270. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the plans in place to support students in rural areas who are unable to attend or access a college course due to a lack of broadband and as a result are at risk of failing their end of year exams; the way in which colleges and universities will facilitate students in the event of such an outcome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18327/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

It has been a significant priority for me and my Department, in the context of the shift to online teaching and learning that has arisen from the public health restrictions, to provide support to students to facilitate connectivity and to examine options designed to seek to minimise the extent to which connectivity challenges act as a barrier to full participation in higher and further education.

In this regard, as part of the package of financial support approved by Government to help underpin the recommencement of higher and further education for the current academic year, my Department allocated €15 million to higher and further education providers for a grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices. This initiative which enabled a bulk purchase of approximately 16,500 laptops on behalf of higher education institutions is intended to help address concerns regarding the digital divide in the context of the shift to online and blended models of learning, and the importance of supporting disadvantaged students to adapt to these new models of learning.

The delivery through the National Broadband Plan of high-speed internet connectively nationwide will ultimately provide a solution to current differences in broadband experience for students and learners. In the interim there are initiatives across a number of Government Departments to facilitate connection through community-based broadband hubs and liaison with telecommunication providers on packages, including unlimited data. It is also worth noting that, at the present time HEAnet provides a wi-fi solution - EduRoam - designed by and for the higher education community which operates across the education locations nationally. EduRoam allows a student to access wi-fi wherever EduRoam is broadcast, enabling a student to seamlessly roam from one EduRoam location to another.

HEAnet is currently working on options to extend the reach of EduRoam beyond the traditional campus locations to areas within the wider community. An extended EduRoam footprint would greatly overcome connectivity challenges and facilitate staff and students in effective teaching and learning activities based at their home location. HEAnet has already made significant progress in this regard, and I have facilitated engagement between HEAnet and relevant Government Departments and Public Sector Bodies to explore the potential for pilot projects trialing the availability to students of EduRoam, via wi-fi hotspots in public infrastructure owned and/or funded by the State. EduRoam is to be broadcast on Broadband Connection points, which will allow for wide coverage and use by students who have experienced difficulties in accessing from home.

I appreciate this is a time of considerable stress and concern for third level students. The national co-ordination group for tertiary education is meeting on a regular basis, and is closely monitoring the impact that Covid-19 is having on third level institutions and their students. There is ongoing engagement on the position with relevant institutions and stakeholders in the light of experience and the progress of the disease and planning for the remainder of the academic year. A working group has also been established to examine how to enhance student wellbeing. This group is chaired by the Union of Students in Ireland and is tasked with identifying, refining and implementing strategies to enhance learner engagement and wellbeing. Student support services remain open on a remote basis, and are available to assist students who are struggling with coursework or any other aspect of college life impacted by Covid-19, and students are encouraged to reach out to these support services if they need assistance.

Language Schools

Questions (1271, 1291, 1303, 1312, 1323, 1324, 1350, 1355)

Michael McNamara

Question:

1271. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if supports will remain in place for language schools to allow the industry to protect itself until it can return to business with the resumption of international travel for the next 12 to 18 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18365/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

1291. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will extend financial supports for the English language education sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18769/21]

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Cathal Crowe

Question:

1303. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if supports will be put in place to help the English as a foreign language sector recover from the Covid-19 downturn in trade. [18950/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

1312. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he has considered providing additional supports to the English language training organisations which have been adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19343/21]

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Marian Harkin

Question:

1323. Deputy Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science his plans to ensure that financial supports for this sector continue given that the English language, international student sector is entirely dependent on international travel in order to get students through the transitional period of gradual reopening; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19434/21]

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Bríd Smith

Question:

1324. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he has considered the plight of the English language education sector that has been decimated during the pandemic due to its reliance on international travel (details supplied); if much needed supports being provided will be extended until the sector has sufficiently recovered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19533/21]

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Pa Daly

Question:

1350. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the interactions of his Department with an organisation (details supplied) since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20700/21]

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Brendan Griffin

Question:

1355. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if financial supports for English language schools will be extended until the return of international travel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20743/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1271, 1291, 1303, 1312, 1323, 1324, 1350 and 1355 together.

English language education (ELE) in Ireland is a broad and diverse sector with the vast majority of activity undertaken by private sector providers. I am aware of the important contribution made by this sector and of the challenges that are being encountered given the substantial impact that the Covid-19 outbreak has had on students, teachers and providers.

As part of the response to the pandemic, my Department established a specific Working Group for this sector. This group is comprised of representatives of relevant Government Departments and sectoral representatives of staff, students and providers.

As part of this process, the representative bodies for English language education providers have engaged with the Working Group surrounding their proposals for supports to aid the recovery of this sector. In this forum, the providers have been advised of the measures introduced by Government, as part of the wider Covid-19 response, to support businesses at this time. These measures included the temporary wages subsidy scheme (TWSS) to facilitate employers to keep employees on the payroll during the initial period of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to retain this link for when business increases after the crisis. This temporary scheme was kept in place until the end of August 2020. Following the conclusion of the TWSS, it has been superseded by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which continues to provide payroll support to businesses. In addition to the subsidy that is being provided via the EWSS, this scheme also provides for a reduction in Employers PRSI.

Further to the above, the ELE provider representatives have been advised of the eligibility of businesses in this sector to apply, where appropriate, for further business supports made available by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment via Enterprise Ireland and through its network of Local Enterprise Offices. A full list of these supports and related information is available for providers here: https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/ .

My Department has received the most recent proposals for supports from the sector and is continuing to engage with ELE provider representatives in this regard as this sector moves towards its full re-opening and continues on a path to recovery.

Research and Development

Questions (1272)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

1272. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the percentage of publicly funded research being produced which is open access; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18375/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Ireland is committed to the principle of Open Access to publicly funded research. Open Access enables the free flow of information across national and international research communities, supports research-enabled teaching and learning, citizen science and open innovation, and fosters greater transparency, accountability, and public awareness of research results. As stated in the 2019 National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment, Ireland’s objective is for all Irish scholarly publications resulting from publicly funded research to be made openly available by default. This objective is in line with European Commission targets and internationally accepted best practice and will be further defined through a National Action Plan for Open Research, currently under development by Ireland’s National Open Research Forum (NORF).

The National Action Plan is expected to consider targeted support needed to bolster Open Access to research publications across Irish research institutions and diverse disciplines as well as a mechanism to track and monitor, at a national level, the percentage of publicly funded research made Open Access. Such a mechanism will allow us, not only to track the growth of Open Access, but to set targets, make interventions to address gaps that emerge, and provide transparency in terms of the accessibility of publicly funded research.

There is currently no central database at a national level to measure open access levels in publicly-funded research in Ireland. However, some research funding organisations track open access levels, including Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) which is under the auspices of my Department. In 2019, 50% of SFI-funded original and review articles published were openly available, which represented a 5% point improvement on the previous year. This percentage reflects the estimate by two publishing companies that between 43% and 51% of peer-reviewed journal articles published by authors with an affiliated address in Ireland in 2019 were open access.

SFI is committed to ensuring that all outputs arising from SFI-funded research are openly available. To this end, SFI is a signatory of Plan S and cOAlition S member, an initiative to make full and immediate Open Access to research publications a reality. SFI’s Open Access policy reflects the principles espoused by Plan S and those of the National Framework on the Transition to an Open Research Environment. SFI is also a signatory of the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA) which is often seen as a complementary initiative to Open Research.

Third Level Fees

Questions (1273)

Michael McNamara

Question:

1273. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason a person (details supplied) has to pay further fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18412/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

Applications for free fees are assessed by higher education institutions. Under the Free Fees Initiative the Exchequer meets the cost of tuition fees of eligible students pursuing an approved full-time undergraduate course of study in an approved institution in the State. Eligible students must meet the terms of the scheme, including the nationality and residency clauses.

Where undergraduate students do not qualify for free fees funding they must pay the appropriate fee, either EU or Non-EU, as determined by each higher education institution. Higher education institutions are autonomous bodies and therefore the criteria governing the level of fee payable by students (EU or non-EU) is a matter for the relevant institution to determine in line with its own criteria.

Following enquiries made by Officials from my Department with SUSI, the centralised student grant awarding authority, I understand the student in question was awarded 100% EU Rate of Fees (up to €6,270 towards tuition fees) for the 2020/21 academic year. SUSI have confirmed that full EU fees at the maximum rate allowable under the Student Grant Scheme have been paid on the student's behalf.

The determination on the rate of fees payable for a particular student (i.e. International or EU rate) rests solely with the college concerned. Neither SUSI nor my Department have a role in this. Accordingly, the student is advised to liaise directly with the college concerning this matter. The Fees Office of NUIG may be contacted by emailing fees@nuigalway.ie and including CAO / NUI Galway student ID number. Details of the appeals process operated by the college in relation to the rate of fees charged may be requested from this office.

Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, 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 Office in the third level institution attended, and is administered on a confidential discretionary basis.

In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may also be available in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie

Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (1274, 1279, 1293)

Seán Fleming

Question:

1274. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when a person (details supplied) who is completing a plumbing apprenticeship will be able to start their first stage of college; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18414/21]

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Pauline Tully

Question:

1279. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the action he will take to ensure that all apprentices whose course has been affected by Covid-19 restrictions will be able to qualify in the same timeframe as they would have done before the restrictions were introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18529/21]

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Michael McNamara

Question:

1293. Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when a person (details supplied) will be facilitated with their next phase of the Solas apprenticeship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18807/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1274, 1279 and 1293 together.

COVID-19 related suspension of practical training in Training Centres, Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities has had a significant impact on the ability of craft apprentices to access off-the-job training waiting times. When permissible, practical training is operating at approximately 50% normal capacity to ensure adherence to public health guidance. This has exacerbated the increasing pressure on craft apprentice off-the-job training facilities which was growing as a result of the 90% increase in apprentice population over the past 6 years. A situation which has impacted on waiting lists for electrical, plumbing and carpentry and joinery in particular.

€20M in capital expenditure has been allocated to SOLAS and the HEA to facilitate an additional 4,000 places across the system in the coming period in addition to €12M already allocated to support additional classes and teaching capacity to ameliorate COVID-19 measures. SOLAS and the HEA are working with the education and training providers to tackle waiting lists and ensuring that apprentices complete their training as quickly as possible once current COVID-19 restrictions allow.

In the interim, education and training providers have front-loaded remote training on theoretical aspects of apprenticeship for craft apprentices to ensure that apprentices are facilitated to continue with their programme. A phased return to face to face training has commenced for those apprentices who had been undertaking remote teaching and learning or who were close to completion of phase 2, 4 or 6 when training was suspended in January 2021.

SOLAS is providing weekly updates directly to apprentices, and employers of apprentices, who are assigned to off-the-job training phases. Scheduling dates for individual apprentices are not available at the current time, with the system focussing on supporting craft apprentices who to complete their phases.

Institutes of Technology

Questions (1275, 1276, 1277, 1327)

Alan Dillon

Question:

1275. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he is satisfied with the work of the Higher Education Authority and the subcommittee of the governing body of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology on their management oversight and development of the Mayo campus taskforce implementation plan; and his views on whether the recommendations progressed and the changes implemented realised their targeted impact in making the Mayo campus more financially viable into the future. [18465/21]

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Alan Dillon

Question:

1276. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science the reason the ring-fenced funding provided by the Higher Education Authority of €750,000 per annum used in 2018, 2019 and 2020 was only used to reduce the ongoing annual deficits incurred at the Mayo campus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18466/21]

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Alan Dillon

Question:

1277. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science when he expects the mid-term review report of the independent assessor of the Mayo campus taskforce implementation will be published; the details of the HEA Finance and Governance Committee findings on this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18468/21]

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Alan Dillon

Question:

1327. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he will provide the details that were submitted to the Higher Education Authority on the long-term sustainable future for the Mayo campus detailed by the governing body of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19646/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1275, 1276, 1277 and 1327 together.

As the Deputy is aware the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) Working Group was established in March 2017. The key objective of this group was to develop a plan to develop a sustainable future for the Mayo Campus arising from concerns about the financial viability of the campus. The Governing Authority of GMIT in consultation with the HEA have responsibility for the implementation of the recommendations of the report to promote the future sustainability of the Mayo Campus as an integral part of GMIT in the North West Region. The report of the Working Group advised that a Mid Term Review of the recommendations of the GMIT Working Group Report be undertaken. The Terms of Reference for the mid-term review were approved by the HEA and Mazars were appointed as the independent assessor for the review.

My Department and the HEA are continuing to work closely with GMIT to ensure that all of the recommendations of the report are progressed. The working group report acknowledged the complexities and the necessary implementation time required for a number of the recommendations.

I would like to assure the Deputy that my Department and the HEA will continue to work with GMIT on ensuring that the recommendations of the Working Group are implemented as soon as possible, and with appropriate consultation with relevant stakeholders, to ensure the future sustainability of the Mayo campus.

The report of the independent assessor in relation to the mid-term review is scheduled to be presented to the HEA’s Finance and Governance Committee on 18th May 2021. I will advise the Deputy of the updated position from the HEA pending assessment of the report.

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