As part of a package of COVID-19 supports for the higher and further education sectors, my Department has allocated €15 million to higher and further education providers for a once-off COVID-19 Grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices.
This initiative addresses concerns regarding the digital divide in the context of the shift to online and blended models of learning as a result of COVID-19 and the importance of supporting disadvantaged students to adapt to these new models.
The €15 million allocation is being provided as grant funding to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and Education and Training Boards (ETBs) for the procurement of devices. These devices will then be distributed to disadvantaged students via targeted lending schemes.
Given the unprecedented global demand for laptops, HEIs and ETBs were given the opportunity to use all or part of their grant funding to participate in a bulk purchase of laptops organised by HEAnet. HEAnet, as Ireland’s National Education and Research Network, is responsible for providing internet connectivity and associated ICT services across the Irish education system. The bulk purchase, amounting to over 16,700 laptops, used an existing supplier identified by a tender competition run by HEAnet under a framework established by the Office of Government Procurement (OGP).
HEIs and ETBs which are not using all of their grant funding to participate in the bulk order are procuring additional devices directly.
The Department has not engaged on this issue with the organisations referred to by the Deputy. However, extensive advice has been received from HEAnet and we are satisfied that the devices procured as part of the bulk purchase are appropriate to the needs of the sector and the student.