This afternoon, the new Department for Higher and Further Education announced a €168 million funding package had been approved by government for the third level education sector.
Following a cabinet decision last night, 10,000 students are to receive financial support to buy laptops, tablets and other tools to facilitate online learning.
Minister for Higher and Further Education, Innovation and Science Simon Harris said: “Throughout the pandemic, further and higher education never closed. Even during the most restricted period of the pandemic, institutions and providers continued to provide education through emergency remote learning.”
Harris stated: “We need to support them now as we seek to return in September. Today, I can confirm a significant financial package for our third level institution to assist with their re-opening.”
“In addition, I am pleased to confirm we have identified significant supports for our students, including increasing student supports, access to mental health services and a new scheme aimed at helping students with access issues,” Harris continued.
According to the Irish Times on Monday, Harris was to seek €100 million in funding for the sector, to support universities and colleges following the Covid-19 crisis.
According to RTE this morning, €15 million of the funding package is to help with online learning that could assist 10,000 students access laptops, tablets and internet connectivity, while €3 million will be made available for mental health support.
Harris added: “There is a significant digital divide emerging among our student population. Many students have difficulties accessing devices – laptops or tablets, while some can’t access WiFi and others need assistance in using the devices for college work.”
“This new scheme of €15 million will help us address that digital divide and give students the tools to continue their education,” Harris stated.
The minster also confirmed funding will be provided for research projects that could not be completed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A further €16 million will be made available to double the student assistance fund, as many young people have lost their part-time jobs, opportunities through the J1 Visa scheme or other ways of earning money.
Speaking on the funding package, Minister of State for Further Education Niall Collins said: “The package today responds to the serious financial impact of Covid-19 on third level education but it also provides supports to meeting the student and learner requirements.”
“A critical requirement has been identified for students and learners who are experiencing difficulty in accessing course provision and completing assessment owing to not having access to devices,” Collins added. “This cohort are the most vulnerable students who need assistance and support to remain in education and complete their studies.
Harris is also expected to set out plans for the safe operation of campuses for when they return in September, including funding to cover the costs needed by third level institutions for health protection measures.
The Irish Universities Association (IUA) have praised the funding package.
Commenting on the announcement, Jim Miley, Director General of the IUA said: “Today’s announcement by Minister Harris is tangible evidence of the government’s recognition of the key role that higher education and research has in helping to reboot the economy. It follows through on the commitment to the sector as represented by the establishment of a separate government Department.”
Miley added: “The Covid fund provides universities with the immediate resources to plan and implement teaching and research programmes for the new academic year and ensure that the quality of those programmes is underpinned to deliver the best student experience possible.”
The initiative will also include funding of up to €150 million for universities and institutes of technology to help with the introduction of social distancing measures on their campuses, so they can operate during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Trinity is expected to start the upcoming term on September 28, three weeks later than the original start date of the Michaelmas term.