I thank the Deputy for the question. Obviously, the support and well-being of students are a major priority for me and my Department. They are a major priority for all Members of the House and we have endeavoured to reflect that in the significant steps to increase funding for this purpose.
Like the Deputy, I am very conscious of the pressures on students, including those arising from the pandemic as well as from increased costs of living. As I will outline, I have secured significant funding to support the student population this year, for students in financial difficulty as well as for students who require mental health supports, disability supports or assistance for items such as laptops. In fact, my Department will spend over €400 million on student supports in 2021, including the student grant scheme which assists approximately 74,000 students annually to access third level education. This includes the implementation of measures I introduced in last year's budget to provide greater support to postgraduates in the SUSI scheme from the current academic year onwards.
I have also secured a comprehensive package of financial supports for the higher education and further education and training sectors to mitigate the impact of Covid in the current academic year. Funding of €3 million to underpin well-being and mental health and student services in our higher education institutions was secured. This was in addition to the €2 million that had been allocated in the budget. An additional €20 million was provided for the SUSI student grant scheme to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 through increased levels of demand. I have doubled the student assistance fund over the last two years to ensure students have support if they fall on hard times. This will provide €17.2 million for financial assistance to students experiencing financial difficulties while attending higher education. That figure was €8 million when I took office less than two years ago. A specific provision has also been made in the student assistance fund for part-time students who are lone parents or members of other priority access groups under the national plan for equity of access to higher education.
The student assistance fund is available to assist students who are unable to meet costs associated with day-to-day participation in higher education, including books, class materials, food, essential travel, childcare costs, medical costs and family difficulties such as bereavements. I believe these critical measures will assist many students.