I am pleased the Deputy mentioned medical graduates because I would not want to miss the Irish Medical Organisation too much due to the change in my brief. I am looking forward to meeting it in the new year on medical graduate training in Ireland. We need to have an important conversation about how we support medical students in this country. I look forward to coming back to the Deputy on that.
It is important to note that postgraduate study in the higher education system in Ireland takes place across a very wide and diverse set of disciplines and extends from taught master's programmes to advanced and specialised postgraduate research. While the introduction of strict public health restrictions impacted widely on postgraduate students, the shift to online learning necessitated by Covid impacted predominantly on taught postgraduate programmes. I am making the point that there is a variety of different types of postgraduate programme. While Ireland was on level 5, all further and higher education institutions delivered the majority of their classes online, with only essential activities on site. As I indicated, as we are now at level 3 we are hoping to be more ambitious in terms of the ability to increase face-to-face learning on a phased and incremental basis. It is also hoped to restart a number of social activities such as sports, clubs and societies to allow students to experience some element of college life.
We need to be realistic. Higher education institutions are autonomous, as provided for in legislation, and the determination as to the total level of postgraduate fee to be charged is a matter for each institution in accordance with its particular operational condition and circumstances. That is a matter of legislation.
The cost of delivering such a programme has not reduced as a consequence of the pandemic, and in many ways these institutions ran up a range of additional costs in continuing to deliver programmes, despite unique circumstances. We have been trying to assist them financially in meeting those costs, and we have provided much funding for that.
Conscious of the immediate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our students, I ensured that postgraduate students were included in the €50 million financial assistance fund. The variety of postgraduate courses vary and therefore the experience this year in college is varying significantly.