Such students currently face full international fees of at least €15,000 a year, including those who have spent all their second-level education or longer in Irish schools. They are also ineligible for support from student grants because of eligibility criteria, a combination of issues the minister says effectively excludes most asylum seekers from a future they have worked hard to achieve.
Ms O’Sullivan told the Teachers’ Union of Ireland congress that she is determined that, from next September, asylum seekers who have been in Irish schools for at least five years would no longer have to pay any more than their classmates.
“I believe that such students should no longer have to pay any more to access third-level, than their Irish friends do, and that they should have appropriate access to student supports,” she said to applause from more than 400 delegates, who include third-level lecturers.
The undergraduate student contribution rises to €3,000 a year from September, but asylum seekers who qualify for grant support would also have that fee waived in the same way as other grant recipients.
The minister said she hopes her approach will be supported by the forthcoming report of a working group, chaired by retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon, which is exploring the broader issue of supports for asylum seekers.
While no firm policy has been decided by Government, the minister’s declaration was intended as a clear signal of intent for students preparing for Leaving Certificate exams, or who may wish to apply for a third-level place before the final Central Applications Office (CAO) May 1 deadline.
However, they may face delays in being able to apply to Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) for college grants until any changes to eligibility rules are formalised.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland this week welcomed Ms O’Sullivan’s announcement of a bill under which she plans to set regulations imposing a 10% cap on the number of places schools could reserve for children of past pupils. School policies that give preference to students whose parents attended there were described at Oireachtas Committee hearings last year as discriminatory, as they weaken the chances of children who are new to an area.
But the Joint Managerial Body, which represents religious-owned secondary schools that include those charging fees, has raised concern that it would impact on family cohesion in terms of schooling. Consultations on draft regulations will take place once the Admission to Schools Bill becomes law.
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