Government may boost support for third-level education by cutting student registration fees

Higher education minister says department is working to ensure that cost is never a barrier to accessing education
Government may boost support for third-level education by cutting student registration fees

The Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, was speaking at the unveiling of the €168m emergency third-level education fund. Picture: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Government will consider reducing registration fees for students who are facing extra costs and challenges when classes return, according to the Minister for Higher and Further Education.

Simon Harris was speaking as a €168m emergency fund for the third-level sector was unveiled to help deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

As well as providing financial support for 10,000 students to access laptops, the package also includes additional funding for third-level institutions to assist with their re-opening.

While the emergency package has been welcomed, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called for a €500 reduction to the student contribution charge in light of the economic difficulties facing students. Further clarity is needed around the emergency funding, according to Lorna Fitzpatrick, USI president.  

When asked about students facing fees when they may also have to adjust to blended or remote learning, Mr Harris said it is something that could be looked at as part of the estimates process, which leads up to October's budget. 

"We have just established a new Government and department, and what we need to do now over the course of the coming weeks, in advance of the estimates, is to work out how best we ensure that cost is never a barrier to accessing education,” he said. 

He also said the Government and institutions will monitor how a reduced number of international students coming to Ireland was expected to result in less revenue for colleges.

The additional third-level funding provides "much-needed stability" for the higher education sector arising from the Covid-19-induced financial shocks. That's according to the Irish Universities Association (IUA). 

The fund also gives universities the immediate resources to plan and implement teaching and research programmes for the new year, according to Jim Miley, IUA director general. The funding and guidelines have also been welcomed by the Technological Higher Education Association. 

Meanwhile, new guidance issued by the department has illustrated some of the changes third-level colleges may need to make to ensure student and staff safety when they return to campus.

The guidance, published by the Department of Further and Higher Education, has recommended that classes or lectures should be less than two hours long, and face-to-face meetings should be minimised when classes return.

Temperature checks on campus have been ruled out, and face coverings may be required in certain instances, the department also said. The 2m physical distancing rule remains in place across campuses in most instances. 

International students will have to self-isolate for 14 days when they first arrive here, in line with the current advice. 

When it comes to student accommodation, which is seen to present “a potential risk” when it comes to outbreaks or clusters, students who reside together will be treated as belonging to the same household. 

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