A financial support package will help third-level institutes reopen after Covid-19, with €15m allocated for purchasing laptops and €3m for mental health supports.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, TD, has secured an agreement for a €160m funding package for third-level institutes across Ireland, according to RTÉ.
The package, which is expected to be announced today (22 July), will allocate €15m to help up to 10,000 students buy laptops, tablets and other equipment for online learning, as the sector deals with additional costs resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
An additional €16m will double the student assistance fund to aid those who have lost part-time jobs or other opportunities, and €3m will be invested in mental health supports for students.
Last week, the Government launched its further education strategy for the next five years, which will focus on building skills, fostering inclusion and creating pathways.
Mental health and wellbeing are also core elements of the new strategy, looking at professional development and the student curriculum. It aims to give students greater access to apprenticeships, increase diversity and strengthen the participation of women and people with disabilities.
“Further education and training is for everyone,” Harris said. “It was a lifeline for many during the economic recession, and once again will be critical to our post-Covid recovery. This strategy will aim to address some of the key challenges we face including the digital divide, female participation and the skills mismatch we are seeing.”
A report from Accenture released today looked at Ireland’s digital divide, claiming that at least 25pc of the population is excluded from an “increasingly digital society”.
Facilitating the return to campus
The third-level sector in Ireland has been experiencing financial strain for some time. A Higher Education Authority (HEA) report published in May estimated that the sector is facing a €500m shortfall this year and next.
At the time, the HEA called for a financial support package to be developed, with director general of the Irish Universities Association Jim Miley saying “universities don’t have the tools to manage their cost base”.
There are growing costs post-Covid due to various factors, including fewer international students coming to Ireland, unused student accommodation and cancelled events.
The Government is aiming to help third-level institutions reopen and welcome students back to campuses in September and October, though official public health advice on this has not yet been issued.