This afternoon, Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) President Lorna Fitzpatrick and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kevin McStravock had a “constructive” meeting with the new Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris.
On Saturday, Harris was appointed to the new ministerial position established under the coalition government between Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
According to a statement issued online, USI and Harris discussed the “key” issues for students, such as the need for further students supports, to urgently address the digital divide and the action needed following the recent student Sexual Experiences Survey.
In the statement, USI wrote: “Issues around student supports featured heavily in the discussion with the USI outlining areas in need of immediate review such as the SUSI eligibility criteria and the need to expand the thresholds to ensure all those who need to access SUSI can do so.”
The statement continued: “The need for increased funding for the Student Assistance Fund and the Back to Education Allowance were also outlined by USI.”
Earlier this week, Harris urged students to apply for the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant, stating that the scheme will be “flexible” and can address loss of income in households as a result of Covid-19.
USI claimed that the Minister agreed to work with the USI to develop a framework for supporting students’ unions.
On Twitter this evening, Harris said: “Thank you to The USI for meeting with me today. Wanted to meet with them in my first week in office to discuss this new Government Department & a range of important issues for students.”
“A follow up meeting again later this month. Much to do!” he continued.
Harris and the USI representatives also discussed the “urgent need” to address the digital divide ahead of the new academic year.
In their statement, USI said: “USI will continue to engage with Minister Harris on the need for a sustainable funding model for Higher Education and are keen to ensure all relevant stakeholders form part of this discussion.”
“USI hopes the creation of this new department will lead to a strong education system that is truly accessible to all,” it continued.
It added: “The union is committed to working with Minister Harris and his new department to ensure our higher education system is funded, accountable and supportive for all students.”
Harris is to meet with the relevant parties connected to the recent student Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) by USI and Active Consent in the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) within the next two weeks, as well as another formal engagement with USI on the broader range of issues before the end of the month.