SUSI review a boost for students – Harris

by Rachel Cunningham
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Minister advises students to look to educational grants and supports ahead of return to physical classes

The Government is investing €105m in ensuring we have a safe return to campuses for students and staff alike, with €21m of that money set aside for services to assist those who need them most

A review of the SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) student grant scheme is currently underway, with over 250 submissions received through public consultation and over 9,000 online survey responses, Minister Simon Harris TD, told the Dublin Gazette.

“It is anticipated that the SUSI review will be completed later this year. The SUSI review, and how we can improve the system, is part of the proactive steps we are taking. We have already taken some measures this year in terms of increasing the level of grants for postgraduate students and funding for PATH initiatives”, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science stated.

The SUSI grant, which was introduced in 2012, is a lifeline to post-secondary school education for many students. The grant covers the cost of the student contribution in full or in part for eligible students, with over 65,000 students receiving full or partial financial support for the 2020/21 academic year.

With demand for the grant anticipated to continue to grow in the aftermath of the pandemic, the review will consider the value of the maintenance grants, income thresholds, grant availability for part-time students, postgraduate supports and how Ireland measured up to other jurisdictions.

“In addition, our response to COVID-19 provided a range of additional supports beyond the €250 to all SUSI eligible and all full-time higher education students in publicly funded institutions. These supports included a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund and a technology fund for devices for students in 2020/21.

“Ahead of the 2021/2022 academic year, I recently announced €21m in further funding to provide specific extra supports for students. This included an extra €3m for student mental health, an extra €10m for the Student Assistance Fund which provides financial supports to students experiencing financial difficulties while in college, and €8m for the Mitigating Educational Disadvantage Fund, which supports and engages disadvantaged learners”, Minister Harris added.

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Regarding the uptake of the Student Grant Scheme for Asylum Seekers, Minister Harris reflected on the direct effect of removing certain application barriers from the process. “The removal of the requirement to have sat the Leaving Certificate and to have three years in the Irish Education system has resulted in a circa 500 per cent increase in applications, with successful applicants also increasing fivefold. The scheme is reviewed on an annual basis and the review of the 2020 scheme is currently ongoing with details of any changes for 2021 to be announced in the coming weeks”, he said.

The minister also highlighted the options that are available for those who are considering to return to education, either as an opportunity to upskill within their current career or with the intention of changing their working path.

He outlined: “A range of measures were introduced as a response to upskilling and reskilling needs of individuals and businesses to address the effects of the pandemic through the July Jobs Stimulus and Budget 2021. These measures are providing 35,000 education and training places to help those who were displaced by the effects of the pandemic. A further 15,000 places were announced as part of the skills package in Budget 2021.

“Combined these measures include places on the Skills to Complete initiative, additional places through Skillnet supported programmes, funding of the Apprenticeship Incentivisation scheme, the roll-out of retrofit training across the country and the expansion of the range of short-duration, part-time and online upskilling and reskilling offerings available for recipients of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

“The majority of further education training is either free or heavily subsidised. Each ETB (Education and Training Board) has a dedicated Adult Guidance Service, which is free of charge to anyone over the age of 18, and information in relation to specific supports that may be available can be explored through this service.”

When asked what reassurances Minster Harris wanted to offer students returning to higher and further education in September, he responded: “Over a quarter of a million people attend further and higher education every year and this year the bulk of their work has been done remotely. We know it was necessary but we are also aware that they [students] have missed out on so much. We need to begin the next academic year on the right foot, get our learners and staff back on-site and start the work of preventing long-term effects of the pandemic for our youngest adults.

“These past 18 months have been particularly difficult for vulnerable learners. There is no denying Covid-19 has had an effect on many people’s mental health. That’s why the Government is investing €105m in ensuring we have a safe return to campuses for students and staff alike, with €21m of that money set aside for services to assist those who need them most. We need to ensure all our students are supported as they get back to campus, and that will remain the priority of both me and my Department over the coming months.”

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