The main support available to students is the statutory based Student Grant Scheme where students are studying for the first time or are progressing to study at a higher level e.g. progressing to postgraduate study. To qualify for grant support, a student has to meet various criteria such as means, residency, nationality and progression. In 2017 SUSI provided some €370m in student supports that benefitted more than 78,000 students. Additional funding of €4 million was secured in Budget 2017 and a further €3m in Budget 2018 to facilitate the reinstatement of full maintenance grants, from September 2017, for the most disadvantaged postgraduate students.
The National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education published in 2015 has as its overall vision the goal of ensuring that the student body entering, participating in and completing higher education at all levels reflects the diversity and social mix of Ireland’s population. One of its specific objectives is to increase access by students from target groups to initial teacher education (ITE).
Arising from this, in September 2016, my predecessor, Mr. Richard Bruton, T.D. announced that an allocation of €2.7m was being made available, over a three year timeframe, for ITE access initiatives under strand 1 of the PATH Fund. The objective of PATH 1 is to increase access to initial teacher education for students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan, namely Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, Mature students, Students with disabilities, Travellers, Part time/flexible learners and Further Education award holders.
The Deputy will be aware that in November 2018, I published the Action Plan for Teacher Supply. One of the actions is for the Higher Education Authority to engage with higher education institutions to develop proposals for flexible options which will facilitate access to, and participation in, Professional Master of Education (PME) programmes in targeted subject areas, including for persons who wish to change careers. It is intended that this action will be progressed over the coming months.
Also under the Action Plan, the Department is exploring the provision of additional supports for postgraduate ITE students. Following from this, an additional €1 million was added to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) for the current academic year 2018/19 for students attending PME programmes. The SAF provides financial assistance to students experiencing financial difficulties while attending third level. Students can be assisted towards rent, childcare costs, transport costs and books/class materials. The total SAF allocation for 2018/2019 is now €10.1 million. In accordance with the Action Plan, the Department will continue to consider the provision of additional supports for postgraduate ITE students.