Throughout the last number of months my Department has been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector including the USI to address the challenges faced by students in this difficult time. I will continue to liaise with the USI and have met regularly with the President of the USI including on one occasion specifically in relation to the USI's Education for All Campaign.
It is important to note in relation to this issue that under the Free Fees Schemes the Exchequer currently makes a very substantial contribution amounting to €340m to meeting the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate Higher Education students with those students who are required to pay the student contribution paying €3,000 per annum towards the cost of their studies.
In addition, the Exchequer pays the contribution in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44% of students eligible for free fees.
As the Deputy will be aware as part of Budget 2021, I announced enhanced SUSI grant supports for post-grads and increased support for the PATH access initiative to increase participation in Higher Education from the most economically disadvantaged students and a review of SUSI to guide the future strategic direction of the scheme. An important objective will be to ensure access to and continued participation in higher education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
While the balance of costs and benefits of Higher Education will be considered as part of the broader strategic reform of higher education funding, the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on students and families has been the subject of immediate attention.
In recognition of the challenges facing full time third level students the Government has approved once off funding of €50m to provide additional financial assistance in this academic year.
The funding, which was provided in Budget 2021, in recognition of the significant upheaval they have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic will offer financial assistance to all EU full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students attending publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEI).
The scheme will ensure students;
- Who avail of the SUSI grant will receive an additional €250 payment before Christmas;
- Students who do not avail of the grant but attend publicly funded Higher Education Institutions in the state can reduce by €250 any outstanding contribution fee payments or receive a €250 credit note for their institution;
- In a small number of cases, alternative arrangements will be made for the payment of the monies to students.
SUSI and institutions will be communicating directly with students on arrangements and information from SUSI is available here: https://susi.ie/covid-19-once-off-emergency-grant/
This builds on the specific student supports in response to Covid, which I announced in July including the provision of additional student assistance including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education to assist with difficulties in accessing technology to facilitate their course work in a blended capacity. These supports are being distributed through the colleges and further education providers.
In relation to the Student Grant and in line with the Programme for Government, I recently announced plans to review the SUSI scheme. It is intended that the Review will commence before the end of 2020, and will report in Summer 2021. Stakeholders will be consulted as part of the Review process, and it is intended that the future direction of the SUSI scheme will be guided by the outcome of the Review.