Thursday, 10 September 2020

Ceisteanna (153)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Ceist:

153. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there are persons with severe medical condition that are in the high risk categories such as those with cystic fibrosis that are denied SUSI grants on the grounds that they are online; the steps he will take to address the situation in view of the risk to these persons from Covid-19 and the fact that many traditional courses are now online; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23064/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Further and Higher Education)

The Student Grant Scheme, administered by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), provides grant assistance 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.

Approved courses for the Student Grant Scheme 2020 are prescribed in the Student Support Regulations 2020 and in the Student Support Act 2011. To be eligible for grant assistance, students must be attending an approved full-time course at an approved institution. The Regulations prescribe that an approved course is a full-time course leading to a major higher education and training award which takes a minimum of two years to complete in an approved institution.

Courses that are part-time or that are less than two years in duration or leading to a special purpose/minor award rather than a major award are not approved for the purposes of the Student Grant Scheme. Distance Learning Courses are regarded as part-time courses and, as such, do not qualify for grant assistance under the Student Grant Scheme.

Under Article 15(1) of the Student Grant Scheme, a grant can only be awarded for the normal duration of an approved course, and cannot be paid for any period of study that extends the normal course duration.

In the context of limited public funding and competing priorities, student support funding is currently targeted at full-time students in approved institutions. The potential for reviewing options for existing access funding initiatives to part-time studies in higher education could only be considered in the context of the overall priorities and financial resources for access to higher education, and in the wider higher education funding context. There are no plans at present to extend the scope of the Student Grant Scheme to part-time (online/distance learning) courses.

In terms of policy, planning for models of blended learning is taking place against a backdrop of an evolving public health environment. Changes to courses normally delivered on campus are in response to the evolving Covid-19 pandemic and are a temporary, evolving situation.

In terms of supports for students with disabilities each HEI has an access and disability service in place to support students with disabilities. Students who feel that they may require supports from their institution should contact the access or disability service who will carry out a needs assessment in collaboration with the student. These supports will continue to be provided, as appropriate, where any online or blended learning takes place.

The Fund Students with Disabilities (FSD) provides funding to higher and further education institutions to assist them in offering supports and services to eligible students with disabilities so that they can access, fully participate in and successfully complete their chosen course of study. This supports the overall goals of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education. In 2019 funding of €9.6m was allocated to the FSD (covering both the higher education and further education sectors as well as Irish students studying in the UK and EU). The type of supports covered include:

- Assistive technology;

- Non-medical helpers;

- Academic/learning support;

- Deaf supports;

- Transport supports.

Further Education and Training (FET) Institutions are planning a phased reopening for learners by 29 September and will aim to maximize learner onsite experience and endeavour to provide maximum possible face to face interaction taking into consideration all the risk factors and the requirements of the high-risk learner groups. Learning experience will be enhanced through onsite streaming facilities and blended learning.

The Once-Off COVID-19 Grant (€15m) to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices is part of the package of COVID-19 supports for higher and further education institutions funded by my Department.

The devices will be distributed by the relevant Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Education and Training Boards (ETBs) via appropriate lending schemes. The education institutions are best placed to determine which individual students should be prioritised to receive a device on a needs basis and within the terms and conditions of the scheme. In determining distribution of the devices, HEIs are required to have regard to the target groups, including students with disabilities, identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-2021

HEIs and ETBs must be satisfied that students who receive a device under this grant have demonstrated a verifiable need for such a device e.g. they or their family do not have the means to purchase such a device themselves. Students should contact their HEI access office for further information.