The Deputy did not and I am well aware of it. Students being able to demonstrate in a socially distanced and Covid-appropriate way is an important part of students highlighting issues of concern to them. I thank the Deputy for her question.
I have engaged closely with student representatives on issues concerning the costs of higher education. USI will concur on that point. We have agreed to a schedule of monthly meetings. Tomorrow, I have a meeting with student union presidents from throughout the country. We are in regular and ongoing dialogue with the USI and with student unions around the country. In advance of the current campaign and protest, I met USI officers in my Department to discuss issues, including funding options for the higher education sector and how students most in need are supported.
It is not often highlighted that at present State supports mean that an estimated 45% of students are eligible for free tuition fees. In other words, not every student in this country pays the registration fee and a very significant proportion do not. As I said in response to the previous question, in 2021, we will spend more than €400 million on student supports, including supporting 74,000 students through the student grant scheme.
I am extremely aware of the rising cost of living and of the student accommodation crisis. I am often expected to stand up here as a Minister and explain away the challenge, but I have no interest in doing that. The model for student accommodation is broken. We have been too reliant on the private market. In politics it is important to put up one's hand when a policy is not working and concede that point. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and I are working and will work with student unions to put in place college-owned affordable accommodation.
Until Housing for All was published, a technological university or an institute of technology could not borrow a cent to build student accommodation. I recently went to DCU. It has an opportunity to build many more student accommodation places, but it needs a model that works. The Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, was there with me. I would like to see a cost-rental model put in place for students and for colleges. In the new year, I expect to bring forward proposals on this. A working group, chaired by my Department, is working on it. I will come back with more details in a moment.