Refugees and people seeking asylum here say finances, living conditions, food poverty, and poor transport links are significant barriers they face when trying to progress their education.
New research examining the difficulties faced by refugees and people in the protection process accessing higher education highlights the “huge amount of frustration and challenges” they experience when doing so.
Carried out by College Connect in partnership with the Irish Refugee Council, the study involved 40 in-depth interviews, and 104 survey responses collected between October 2020 and March 2021.
Refugees and people seeking asylum taking part “unanimously described the extreme difficulties that they encountered in their bid to progress their education and rebuild their lives", the study notes.
Those who took part quite often became “visibly upset while speaking of the toll this effort took on their physical and mental health”, it says.
The majority of those taking part in the survey listed finances as a major barrier, with almost a third specifically referring to having to pay international fees as the biggest barrier to accessing education.
Finances were raised as a major barrier at every focus group session. Participants raised issues including not having enough money to purchase books and materials, not being able to buy food, or pay for transport to school.
While a decision taken earlier this year will see people in direct provision no longer having to pay international fees for PLC courses is welcome, it is important not to discount those who partook in this study who were directly impacted by historical policies, the study says.
Many participants in the study spoke about not being able to access the direct provision centre canteen when they started college, and how it was prohibited for friends or other family members to collect food on their behalf.
More than one person described the shame they felt when they could not go with their classmates for meals in the student canteen "because they could not afford to buy food".
Participants also reported that people seeking asylum were not allowed to access courses higher than QQI Level 3 or 4, irrespective of what prior qualifications they had.
Government policies, coupled with grossly limited finances, actively serve to reduce the possibilities for refugees and people in the protection process to participate in higher education, the study concluded. It recommends for the requirement of international fees to be removed for people seeking asylum, refugees, and others in the protection process.
To mark World Access to Higher Education Day today, College Connect and the Irish Refugee Council will launch this research at 3pm.