The government has announced plans to allocate €16.5m in funding for new initiatives to help increase access to third level education for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Approximately 2,000 students will directly benefit from the funding. The groups it aims to benefit include members of the Irish traveller community, students entering college on the basis of a further education award, part-time students, disadvantaged lone parents, and ethnic minorities.
As part of this additional investment, approximately €6 m will be given over the next 3 years to fund bursaries worth €5000 for 600 students from “nontraditional backgrounds”, with support for 120 socio-economically disadvantaged single parents.
Additionally, some €7.5 m will be allocated over the next 3 years to assist some 2,000 students from disadvantaged backgrounds in entering and successfully completing third level courses, while a further €3 m will be given to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF). The fund provides support for students in financial difficulty, often coming to the aid of those who do not qualify for SUSI funds.
In a press statement, Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, said: “Initiatives such as these have the potential to really help to break the cycle of disadvantage for many communities.”
Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said that the new measures are intended “to provide target groups and lone parents with more opportunities to reach their potential”.
They broaden the options available to students from the target groups, by supporting participation on a part-time basis”. Minister Mitchell O’Connor said that the new supports are to be complemented by measures previously announced by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone.
Speaking on the additional funds gained for the Student Assistance Fund, Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Michael Kerrigan stated in a press release: “Today, USI’s call and lobbying efforts have been heard by the Department for Education and Skills ahead of Budget 2018.”
However, he added that while the additional funds were welcome, “it must be noted that the SAF requires a total of €12 m to meet the increased demand being placed on the fund by more applications each year”, and continued that USI urged the government to commit to “part-time and further education students receiving the same supports that would be available to full-time students in hardship”.