27 April, 2020 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor highlights range of supports available to groups at risk of educational disadvantage in further and higher education during Covid-19

Minister welcomes continuation of funding for students as well as increased access to laptops and desktops

 

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has highlighted the range of supports available to students in higher education, particularly from groups traditionally under-represented in higher level education, during Covid-19.

The Minister said: “During the period of college closures it is imperative that, as a society, we do everything we can to support all students but especially more vulnerable learners.  There needs to be a particular focus on learner needs with the emphasis on wellbeing and providing learners with the tools they need to succeed.”

 

A working group on mitigating educational disadvantage is supporting on-going responses to what is an evolving situation. The Minister extended her thanks to all those involved and pointed to the key areas that have been identified as requiring specific attention at this time.

 

These key areas include:

 

  • Continuation of crucial funding sources such as SUSI grants, the 1916 Bursary Scheme, the Student Assistant Fund, Fund for Students with disabilities and other supports
  • Supporting learners without access to sufficient technology
  • Continuation of services offered by access and disability offices and guidance counsellors and counselling services.

 

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “We have been working with the Higher Education Authority and SUSI to make sure that funding schemes are maintained, that support services will still be available to those that need them and that any barriers to access technology will be overcome.”

The SUSI grant scheme opened for applications for the 2020/21 academic year on 23 April. By close of business on the first day it had received almost 10,000applications. 

In the 2019/20 academic year SUSI processed a total of 96,000 grant applications, with just over 76,000 assessed as eligible for grant support with circa 72,000 subsequently drawing down grant support.

It is anticipated that there will be an increase in the number of applications for the 2020/21 academic year and the number of students seeking to be reassessed under the change of circumstances provision in the scheme.

The SUSI grant scheme contains enough flexibility to address matters which may arise due to Covid-19. Prospective applicants who have experienced a fall in income can seek to have their application reviewed under the change of circumstances provision within the scheme, provided they can demonstrate that any change in income is “likely to obtain for the duration of the approved course or for the foreseeable future”.

Separately, the Minister welcomed the generous donation by Dell of 100 laptops and 70 desktops for students in need of supports and who otherwise would not have access to a device.  These devices will be used to support disadvantaged students in further and higher education.

“This is an excellent example of corporate social responsibility which will have a truly positive impact for third level students who are being challenged by the lack of access to suitable technology.”

The Minister also confirmed today that funding under the strand 1 of the Programme for  Access to Higher Education (PATH) which supports access to initial teacher training by National Access Plan target groups, set up in 2016 on a pilot basis for three years will be continued for a further three years. This will ensure that initiatives supported under this fund will continue despite disruptions in education brought about by Covid-19.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “We announced in February that 1,200 students would benefit from the Programme for Access to Higher Education Fund (PATH) over six years. That is still the case.

“Many of the people who struggle to access third level education are the same people who will suffer most during Covid-19. To those students in very difficult circumstances who rely on funding and initiatives of this kind, you can rest assured that access to these resources will not be affected by Covid-19.”

Minister Mitchell O Connor while welcoming the many innovative approaches being undertaken by higher education institutions acknowledged: “This is an extremely difficult time for many students who are struggling with the new challenges in their studies and are worried about their future. Today we are promising that we are working collectively to find more and better ways to support students to get through this and to ensure no one will be left behind.

“The wellbeing of our students, coupled with on-going supports and flexibility of approaches, are so important. The #InThisTogether campaign launched by the government puts wellbeing and mental health at the forefront of our response to Covid-19 and I would like to re-assure students that support is there and to please contact your college and look for help.”  

 

 

Notes for Editors

 

Student Grants Scheme 2020 

Increase in the threshold for the special rate of grant

 

The income threshold for the special rate of grant is aligned with the highest rate of social welfare support (the Old Age Contributory Pension) so as to ensure that students from families dependent on welfare will continue to be eligible for the special rate of grant. The threshold has been increased from €24,000 to €24,500 for the 2020 scheme. This reflects the Budget 2019 increase to the maximum point of the weekly Old Age Contributory Pension, plus maximum Qualified Adult Allowance for a person over 66 years.

Payments included as “income disregards”

 

Community Benefit Education Bursary for the New Children's Hospital is included as an income disregard for the purposes of calculating reckonable income.

 

Brexit

 

Students wishing to study in the UK and UK nationals wishing to take up studies in Ireland remain eligible for grant support. For more information please see: www.gov.ie/brexit

 

Nationality Requirements

 

The nationality requirements of the Student Grant Scheme 2020 have been amended to include permission to reside in the State under Section 49 of the International Protection Act 2015. 

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment

 

The Covid-19 Payment is an emergency payment that was initially introduced for 6 weeks and has now been extended to 12 weeks. Students will continue to receive their maintenance grants as normal for 2019/20 and the duration or value of the grant will not change.

Student grant applications for academic year 20/21 will be assessed based on income earned in 2019. The Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will not affect student grants in the academic year 2019/20, unless applications qualify under the change of circumstances provisions where income from 2020 will be assessed.

 

 

PATH 1 Funding

 

The Government has now committed €30.9m in funding over six years under three strands of the PATH programme. This fund supports innovative measures to support the implementation of the National Plan for Equity of Access 2015-2019.

The objective of this fund is to increase access to initial teacher education for students from the target groups identified in the National Access Plan, namely:

 

  • Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Mature students
  • Students with disabilities
  • Travellers
  • Part time/flexible learners
  • Further Education award holders

 

Under PATH 1, the objective is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups entering initial teacher education and to;

  • Provide more role models for students from these groups, demonstrating that there are pathways open to them to realise their potential through education
  • Help provide better outcomes for students from disadvantaged groups; by ensuring that there are more teachers in place with a personal understanding of the challenges that these groups face.

 

The funding will support a range of new initiatives and partnerships and it is expected that these activities will support more students, from groups that are currently under-represented, to participate in initial teacher education programmes.