The Irish Refugee Council is seeking changes to a scheme set up to provide financial support to asylum seekers attending college after just two people benefited last year.
So far this year, the Department of Education has received only five applications for the alternative grants scheme for those who are ineligible for support through the normal college grant system.
Set up on a pilot basis last year by then education minister Jan O’Sullivan, it aimed to assist students who had been through the school system here but who were still in the asylum-seeker process. There were 37 applications for assistance, but only two of them were successful, as reported by the Irish Examiner in May.
At least 30 to 40 students who are in the asylum-seeking process, many of them living in direct provision accommodation, are believed to have sat the Leaving Certificate this year. Similar numbers are expected to do so in the next few years, and Irish Refugee Council education adviser Charlotte Byrne said the figure could be as high as 100.
She understands the biggest reason for grant applications being unsuccessful last year was that students did not meet the requirement that they must have attended school here for at least five years.
“There are a lot of teenagers who have managed to do the Leaving Certificate, often in a language that is relatively new to them. But then they have to sit around being idle because they can’t go to college,” Ms Byrne said.
She said it would be much more reasonable if students were still required to have completed the Leaving Certificate, but to have been in school in Ireland for the entire two-year senior cycle instead of for five years. She said the same residency requirement that applies to Irish grant applicants could apply, meaning they should be living in the EU for at least three of the last five years.
“The system is preventing people who want to learn and work and fend for themselves, it’s tying their hands,” she said.
While third-level colleges are entitled to charge non-EU students full tuition fees, sometimes more than €10,000 but depending on the course, most are understood to waive fees or offer some other arrangements for small numbers of asylum seekers registered each year.
Only five applications were received up to Wednesday from asylum seekers for the grant scheme, which Education Minister Richard Bruton announced in June he would be continuing on a pilot basis for this year.
It provides for the same level of support as Irish and EU students may receive from Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi). They range from payment of the €200 or €3,000 annual fees for further or higher education, respectively, up to maintenance grants of between €300 and €5,915.
To be eligible, asylum seekers must fall within the same income thresholds as Irish applicants to Susi, and have a combined period of at least five years in the protection process or at leave-to-remain stage. A department spokesperson said the scheme opened for applications on June 3 and is open until November 4.
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