19 September, 2016 - Minister Bruton makes €2.7m available for initial teacher education access initiatives

Review of Student Assistance Fund Published

Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Fund

Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, TD, today (19 September) announced the allocation of €2.7m for the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Fund as part of the National Access Plan.

This, three-year, Fund aims to support access to higher education at regional cluster level, with funding being allocated– on a competitive basis by the HEA –  to support particular priority areas, as determined by the Department. The total funding available for 2016 will be €900,000.

The PATH Fund forms part of a wider focus by the Department of Education and Skills to promote and celebrate excellence and innovation. The Department is endeavouring to drive ‘best in class’ innovation across the education system to ensure quality educational outcomes.

The Department of Education and Skills, through the Higher Education Authority, now invites the centres of teaching excellence, in partnership with relevant local stakeholders, to submit proposals thatincrease access to teacher education for students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan.

Announcing the first call for funding proposals under PATH, the Minister said:

“You can’t achieve a prosperous economy without a fair society, and you can’t support a compassionate society without a strong economy. In few areas do we have more capacity to achieve our goal of a strong economy and a fair society than education.”

“The higher education sector is at the heart of addressing massive social and economic challenges, including providing better life opportunities for mature students; members of the Irish Traveller community; students with disabilities and students from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities.

“Under this first round of PATH funding, higher education institutions are being challenged to develop innovative proposals that will deliver positive outcomes for the target groups in the National Access Plan.  One of our aims to increase access to teacher education by students from identified target groups. Teachers who have successfully accessed and progressed in higher education can have a really positive impact and be role models, particularly where such teachers are from the same community or background.”

“In breaking down the cycles of disadvantage, we must ensure that young people who struggle in the Education system get the supports they need to continue and thrive in the educational system. I will take further action in our Action Plan to Tackle Educational Disadvantage which will be published before the end of the year.”

Student Assistance Fund

Minister Bruton also today published a review of the Student Assistance Fund.

The review indicates that over 77,000 third-level students have been supported by the Student Assistance Fund in the past six years, according to a report published today.

The Student Assistance Fund (SAF) is allocated each year by the HEA, on behalf of the Department, to support full-time students experiencing financial hardship.  It is supported financially by the European Social Fund.

Since 2009, €43 million has been allocated through the SAF.

In recent months, an independent review of the Fund was undertaken by the consulting firm Crowe Horwath, with the review findings published today.  The publication of the review is one of the first actions to be delivered under the new National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education, developed by the HEA and the Department of Education and Skills last year. 

The Crowe Horwath report shows that, each year since 2009, the largest proportion of funding has been allocated to assist students with the costs of rent: on average, 46 per cent of total annual SAF funds were allocated under this category.  The average proportions of total funding allocated for other areas of support were as follows:

·        Heating / lighting / food: 23 per cent

·        Transport: 15 per cent

·        Childcare costs: 8 per cent

·        Books / materials: 4 per cent

·        Other living expenses: 2 per cent

·        Medical / dental expenses: 1 per cent

Speaking today, Minister Bruton said:

“I welcome the publication of the report on the Student Assistance Fund today. Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Information on the fund is available through the Access Officer in the third level institution attended. The review makes a number of recommendations, all of which will be implemented.”

Commenting today, Anne Looney, Interim CEO of the HEA, said:

“The aim of the Student Assistance Fund is to improve the quality of students’ experience.  It plays a vital role in ensuring students can access higher education, despite difficult financial circumstances.  It also provides financial relief to students who find themselves in emergency situations.

“The HEA has administered the Student Assistance Fund – on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills – since 2003.  We commissioned this independent review to determine whether the fund is fit for current and future purpose.

“The report published today shows the SAF is highly valued and heavily relied upon by students, particularly by those students who are most in need.  The SAF review is one of the first actions to be delivered under the new National Access Plan and, crucially, is key to achieving other objectives in the Plan, particularly national targets to increase access to higher education.”

 Further information onthe PATH Fund and the Horwathreview of the Student Assistance Fund are available at www.hea.ie.