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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 573-587
 Header Item Apprenticeship Programmes
 Header Item Third Level Costs
 Header Item Nursing Education
 Header Item Third Level Costs
 Header Item Nursing Education
 Header Item EU Directives
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Student Universal Support Ireland
 Header Item Student Support Schemes
 Header Item International Students
 Header Item Departmental Contracts
 Header Item Departmental Staff
 Header Item Student Grant Scheme
 Header Item Parental Leave

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 998 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 120 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 573-587

Apprenticeship Programmes

 573. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he will work to facilitate apprentice hairdressers getting back on site to continue their educational training; and if he will engage with those businesses providing the on-the-job work experience side of the training to ensure these apprentices can complete their apprenticeships. [28162/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Niall Collins): Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board (ETB) who are the coordinating provider for the National Statutory Hairdressing Apprenticeship have confirmed that all apprentices have returned to work and have resumed normal work-based training duties as part of their apprenticeship programme.

In addition, apprentices have returned to face to face off the job training since the reopening of ETB education and training providers. Off the job training for the hairdressing apprentices was facilitated through online tutorials during the closure of ETB education and training providers.

Third Level Costs

 574. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the procedure to be followed or expected in the case of a person (details supplied) who has been awarded their second choice place in DCU and has now been informed that the course will operate as a virtual course; if they are entitled to a refund of the maintenance element of their payment which they have already made to the college in respect of accommodation; if the course is likely to continue remotely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28269/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris On 25th September intensified protective measures in third level were announced, in line with public health advice. This has meant that on-site activity will be minimised so long as these measures are in place. While I appreciate that this may be disappointing for students who had hoped to have as much time on campus as possible, these measures are necessary if the spread of the Coronavirus is to be halted.

These measures will be reviewed as the public health situation evolves, and I, my Department and the Higher Education Institutions will continue to act in the best interests of students and staff.

In relation to the refund of accommodation costs, in the first instance students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached. Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the license agreement signed at the beginning of the academic year. I understand, based on the information available to me, that DCU allowed students to cancel their accommodation without penalty up until 5th October. If a student wishes to cancel their accommodation after this, they should contact DCU directly to discuss the matter.

Nursing Education

 575. Deputy Imelda Munster Information on Imelda Munster Zoom on Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if additional third level college places in nursing will be provided; the location these places will be provided; the closing date for applications for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28302/20]

 576. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if additional third level college places in nursing will be provided; if so, the locations in which places will be provided; the closing date for application to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28306/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I propose to take Questions Nos. 575 and 576 together.

  In order to help mitigate the impact of the changes to the grading system I announced the creation of an additional 2,225 places on high-demand courses in Higher Education Institutions. These places were provided in order ensure that as many students as possible could be accommodated on a course of their choice, given the unprecedented circumstances they are facing. 134 of these places were in Nursing courses, and the numbers per institution are in the following table.

Institution Additional Nursing Places
NUI Galway 6
Trinity College Dublin 20
University College Cork 37
University College Dublin 8
University of Limerick 15
Athlone IT 8
Dundalk IT 4
IT Tralee 5
Letterkenny IT 9
Waterford IT 12
St Angela's College 10
Total 134
  These places have been offered as part of the CAO offer process for the 2020 academic year, and as such are not open for applications. The figures given above may be subject to change as the CAO offer process is not yet complete.

Third Level Costs

 577. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan Information on Cian O'Callaghan Zoom on Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he will provide details of the way in which the additional funds for universities are used; if he has been involved in any talks about a discount or reduction of tuition fees for students in view of the changes to the level of access they have to campus and educational offerings compared with pre-Covid times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28512/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Under the Department’s free fees schemes, the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate Higher Education students with students paying the student contribution. The student contribution fee is currently set at €3,000 per annum and can be paid in instalments. The State pays the contribution in full or part, through SUSI, for approximately 44% of students eligible for free fees.

I am very conscious of the impact of the pandemic has had on our students. In July I announced the provision of additional student assistance including a doubling of the Student Assistance Fund, and a €15 million technology fund for devices for students in further and higher education to assist with difficulties in accessing technology to facilitate their course work in a blended capacity. These supports are being distributed through the colleges and further education providers.

On 25th September intensified protective measures in third level were announced, in line with public health advice. This has meant that on-site activity will be minimised so long as these measures are in place. While I appreciate that this may be disappointing for students who had hoped to have as much time on campus as possible, these measures are necessary if the spread of the Coronavirus is to be halted.

These measures will be reviewed as the public health situation evolves, and I, my Department, and the Higher Education Institutions will continue to act in the best interests of students and staff.

Furthermore, the delivery of further and higher education in the context of Covid-19 will cost the providers more not less. The Government has provided additional funding in the amount of €168m to support the return of students to further and higher education and the additional funding provided for student supports will be of assistance to many students particularly those with the least financial resources.

For the Education providers under the remit of my Department, the allocation includes funding towards Support to Front line response; Immediate ICT costs relating to online provision; Health and Safety Costs; Research costs and funds towards assisting the enrolment of International Students. The funding allocation has been assessed by the HEA and SOLAS and a final breakdown and distribution of funding allocation for the costs incurred is being finalized and correspondence will issue to all eligible providers in the coming weeks.

The Programme for Government undertakes to provide a long term sustainable funding model for higher education. In addition the range of student supports operated by SUSI will be subject to review. An important objective will be to ensure access to and continued participation in higher education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I will continue to work with further and higher education providers, agencies and key stakeholders including student representatives to mitigate the additional pressures faced as a result of covid-19. Consideration of the student contribution will be in the context of annual estimates discussions and programme for government commitments.

Nursing Education

 578. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan Information on Cian O'Callaghan Zoom on Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he has considered financial assistance or concessions for student nurses and midwives on nursing programmes when they are prevented from working part-time jobs due to infection control measures across clinical sites; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28513/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Any financial supports for student nurses and midwives on clinical placements arranged by the relevant higher education institutions with health service providers are matters for the Health Service Executive and neither i nor my Department has a role in this regard.

   However, I am concerned at the difficulties faced by those students who find themselves in the types of situation described by the Deputy arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and, as such, I have asked my officials to raise the matter directly with the Department of Health.

EU Directives

 579. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the cost to his Department to date of all fines paid by Ireland for non-transposition of EU directives into Irish law; the breakdown, by directive, of the lump sum cost and the daily cost of each fine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28613/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris My Department has not incurred any fines as a result of non-transposition of EU Directives into Irish law in the last ten year period.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 580. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris further to Parliamentary Question No. 319 of 29 September 2020, if he will provide the total amount of additional Covid-19-related Exchequer expenditure for 2021 for his Department and a breakdown by line items of this additional expenditure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28682/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris As the Deputy is aware, matters relating to 2021 funding form part of budgetary discussions that are currently ongoing between the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and other Government Departments and Offices. I am liaising closely with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform as part of this process to secure additional funding for the Further and Higher Education sectors, including costs incurred as a result of Covid 19. This will form part of Budget 2021 announcements.

The delivery of further and higher education in the context of Covid-19 will cost the providers more not less. The government has provided additional and re-prioritised funding in the amount of €168m to enable providers to facilitate the safe return of students to further and higher education in 2020, in the context of public health advice. This funding includes provision for PPE and equipment, online learning costs, student supports and research costs.

I will continue to work with further and higher education providers, agencies and key stakeholders to identify impact of the pandemic on our further and higher education sectors and to mitigate the additional pressures faced as a result of covid-19.

Student Universal Support Ireland

 581. Deputy Mick Barry Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he supports the principle of persons born in the State who are not Irish, UK, EEA or Swiss nationals and who qualify under the residency and other requirements of the schemes being able to access SUSI grants and the free fees scheme on the same basis as Irish, UK, EEA and Swiss nationals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28688/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Under the terms of the student grant scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding including those which relate to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means. The nationality requirements for the student grant scheme are set out in section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011 and regulation 5 of the Student Support Regulations 2020.

To qualify for a student grant, it is the candidate's nationality or his/her immigration status in the State that determines whether or not he/she meets the nationality requirement outlined in the Act and Regulations. The Department of Justice and Equality adjudicates on a person's entitlement to remain in the State and on the stamp that is awarded where permission to remain is sanctioned

Article 32 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020 provides for a review of eligibility for the award of a grant in the event of a change of circumstances in the academic year, including a change in relation to a student's nationality or immigration status. Where a student acquires Irish citizenship by naturalisation, or is granted one of the permission to remain criterion provided for in the Act or Regulations during the course of their studies, he/she may apply to SUSI to have his/her application re-assessed.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal form outlining the position may be submitted by the applicant to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board.

Under the Departments Free Fees Initiative, the Exchequer pays tuition fees on behalf of eligible students attending approved full-time undergraduate courses. In order to qualify for funding under the Department’s Free Fees Initiative, students must meet the criteria of the scheme including the separate residency and nationality/citizenship requirements of the scheme.

Students must hold inter alia EU/EEA/Swiss/UK nationality or certain permissions to reside in the state as granted by the Minister for Justice in their own right and have been ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA/Swiss/UK state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course.

Where students do not qualify for free fees funding, they must pay the appropriate fee, either EU or Non-EU, as determined by each higher education institution. These institutions are autonomous bodies and the level of fee payable by students who do not meet the requirements of the free fees scheme is a matter for the relevant institution to determine in accordance with their own criteria.

Student Support Schemes

 582. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the provision in place or that will be put in place for students who have limited or no access to Internet connectivity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28891/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have been undertaking detailed planning and contingencies for their re-opening and communicating these to students, moving from emergency remote learning towards a mode of blended learning, combining both online and onsite provision. In July I announced a €168 million funding package to support the sector and students, including a €15 million fund for technology supports and  an additional €10m for access supports.

  As part of this package of COVID-19 supports for the higher and further education sectors, my Department has allocated €15 million to higher and further education providers for a once-off COVID-19 Grant to support disadvantaged students in accessing ICT devices. This initiative addresses concerns regarding the digital divide in the context of the shift to online and blended models of learning as a result of COVID-19 and the importance of supporting disadvantaged students to adapt to these new models.

  Devices procured using the grant are being distributed by higher education institutions and Education and Training Boards to disadvantaged students via appropriate lending schemes. Approximately 16,700 laptops have already been ordered as part of a bulk purchase organised by HEAnet, Ireland’s National Education and Research Network, while additional devices are being procured by some providers directly.

  In addition, many HEIs already operate more than one campus and are considering all relevant approaches to a return to college where appropriate, or for the most appropriate provision of blended or online programmes. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck a number of higher education projects were already receiving funding from the HEA under the Innovation and Transformation Fund to assist students to access courses virtually. For example, Letterkenny IT runs the iNote project building digital capacity for flexible learning delivery in the West/ North West,; Dundalk IT provides a virtual hub to support all learners under its ‘Gateway to Success’ project and IT Sligo provides online and blended degree programmes for students unable to be on campus due to location, disability etc.

  In relation to connectivity which can be an issue for some students, bringing connectivity to remote rural locations is a key Government policy under the National Broadband Plan network which will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 150Mbps from the outset. To support remote working and connected communities, approximately 300 Broadband Connection Points were identified by Local Authorities to be connected to high speed broadband this year. Provision of these connection points will assist communities in gaining free public access to high speed broadband in advance of the main deployment under the National Broadband Plan. This work is being carried out by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in conjunction with the Department of Rural and Community Development. The connection points will be in public places such as library hubs and community centres and a map of the sites is available on the website of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

  In this context I would also refer the Deputy to my responses to Deputy Cairns in the Dáil on 9 September in relation to issues around connectivity and online access when I said that I had met with representatives of HEAnet, the organisation that is involved in rolling out technological solutions for students. HEAnet delivers high-speed internet connectivity and IT shared services to all levels of the education sector. While the broadband experience for students can differ across the country, the eduroam facility that HEAnet provides is a WiFi solution designed by and for the higher education community, and operates across the education locations nationally. Eduroam allows a student to access WiFi wherever eduroam is broadcast, enabling a student to seamlessly roam from one eduroam location to another.

  HEAnet is in the process of developing proposals to see how this eduroam Wi-Fi system can be made available off campus as well as on campus. To help address the increased demand for broadband access as a result of increased remote learning arising during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is recognised that expanding the coverage footprint of eduroam can help to ameliorate broadband access issues for students. In this regard, HEAnet has launched eduroam   Everywhere’, a pilot initiative with the support of my Department. The objective of this initiative is to explore opportunities to expand the eduroam service across other public sector infrastructures, private sector infrastructures, as well as new infrastructures so as achieve a wider range of targeted locations that are conducive to student access and remote learning. In addition, the expanded HEAnet Store (www.heanet.ie/store) provides discounted devices and mobile broadband offers to support remote learning across higher education.

International Students

 583. Deputy Gary Gannon Information on Gary Gannon Zoom on Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if correspondence was received from this Deputy on 23 September 2020 regarding a letter from international students in Ireland; and if a reply will issue shortly. [28899/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Higher Education Institutions are autonomous bodies and are responsible for their own day-to-day management and operational affairs, including the management of academic affairs. They retain the right to determine their own policies and procedures including the matters you have raised. The determination of international status and level of fee payable is a matter for the relevant institution to determine in accordance with its own criteria.

Blended delivery is expected to play a key part of how providers will ensure continuity of education provision in the face of the Covid-19 restrictions. The determination, as to the total level of fees to be charged, is a matter for each institution in accordance with its own particular operational conditions and circumstances in ensuring quality education provision for students through this pandemic.

On 25th September intensified protective measures in third level were announced, in line with public health advice. This has meant that on-site activity will be minimised so long as these measures are in place. While I appreciate that this may be disappointing for students who had hoped to have as much time on campus as possible, these measures are necessary if the spread of the Coronavirus is to be halted.

These measures will be reviewed as the public health situation evolves, and I, my Department, and the Higher Education Institutions will continue to act in the best interests of students and staff.

Departmental Contracts

 584. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if he has engaged a third-party company in each of the years 2017 to 2019 and to date in 2020 to conduct online and-or social media monitoring and-or provide reports on social media coverage of his Department; if so, the cost of same; and if the names of the social media platforms being monitored will be provided. [28918/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Department has not engaged a third party to conduct online or social media monitoring.

Departmental Staff

 585. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the number of staff in his Department on sick leave between March and September, by month, in 2019 and to date in 2020; the pay arrangements that exist for staff on sick leave for an extended period of time; the number of sick days accounted for by his Department over the period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28936/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The information requested by the Deputy is provided in the following table.

  The regulations governing sick leave in the Public Service are SI 124 of 2014. Limits for sick leave are 92 days full pay in a rolling one year period followed by 91 days on half pay subject to a maximum of 183 days in a rolling four year period. The figures provide below are in relation to the Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science as the figures are not currently being recorded separately for each Department.

MONTH YEAR No of Staff on Sick Leave No of Sick Leave Days
       
03 - March 2019 226 1495.16
  2020 145 1318.35
       
04 - April 2019 184 1329.88
  2020 40 636.83
       
05 - May 2019 192 1391.06
  2020 43 684.35
       
06 - June 2019 163 1237.88
  2020 58 684.08
       
07 - July 2019 169 1291.38
  2020 56 751.16
       
08 - August 2019 183 1292.26
  2020 62 734.19
       
09 - September 2019 240 1548.11
  2020 85 615.29

Student Grant Scheme

 586. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris if a residency clause was in place stating that the children of returning Irish emigrants must have been resident in the State for three out of the previous five years prior to their student grant application, prior to enactment of the Student Support Act 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28947/20]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris Under the terms of the student grant scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding including those which relate to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means. The nationality requirements for the student grant scheme are set out in section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011 and regulation 5 of the Student Support Regulations 2020. To qualify for a student grant, it is the candidate's nationality or his/her immigration status in the State that determines whether or not he/she meets the nationality requirement outlined in the Act and Regulations.

Article 32 of the Student Grant Scheme 2020 provides for a review of eligibility for the award of a grant in the event of a change of circumstances in the academic year, including a change in relation to a student's nationality or immigration status. Where a student acquires Irish citizenship by naturalisation, or is granted one of the permission to remain criterion provided for in the Act or Regulations during the course of their studies, he/she may apply to SUSI to have his/her application re-assessed.

SUSI’s online application process for student grant applications for the 2020/21 academic year opened on 23rd April, 2020. Further information in relation to student grant assistance is available from SUSI’s website, www.susi.ie. The telephone number for SUSI’s Helpdesk is 0761 087 874.

The residency requirement of the 2010 Higher Education Grants Scheme, which was prior to the enactment of the Student Support Act 2011, stated that the candidate shall have been ordinarily resident in the State for at least three out of the last five years immediately preceding the date on which a year of study on an approved course in an approved institution commenced.

Parental Leave

 587. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee further to Parliamentary Question No. 166 of 23 September 2020, when the additional three-week parental leave will be enacted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28140/20]

Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): Information on Helen McEntee Zoom on Helen McEntee The Parent’s Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 provides for two weeks of parent’s leave and benefit for all new parents in employment or self-employment in respect of children born or placed for adoption on or after 1 November 2019. This is to facilitate parents to spend more time with their children in their critical first year of life.

The Government is currently considering a proposal to advance the extension of Parent’s Leave and Benefit to five weeks for all parents of children born after 1 November 2019, to enable every eligible parent to spend additional time with their child.

The Government proposal would mean that eligible parents of children born during the pandemic crisis would get an extra three weeks of Parent’s Leave to offset the impact of having a child during the strict lockdown measures. The period in which Parent’s Leave can be taken would also be extended from one year to two years.

This will be a matter for Minister O'Gorman to progress following the transfer of this function to his Department in the coming weeks.


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