English language classes planned for Ukrainian refugees

‘Personalised assessments’ to be made available for those people seeking work

English languages classes are being planned to help thousands of Ukrainian refugees integrate into Irish society and access a range of State services.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has been in talks with the State's 16 Education and Training Boards about providing classes in regions in response to local demand.

In addition, plans are in place to provide “personalised assessments” to every Ukrainian who comes into the country and wants to find work.

Mr Harris said the aim was to help ensure that the qualifications and skillsets of those arriving can align with the Irish system. There are acute skills gaps across key sectors of the Irish economy including in healthcare and IT.

The latest “difficult to fill vacancies” survey by the State agency Solas shows demand is high for software developers, nurses, healthcare assistants, data analysts and construction workers.

More than 9,000 Ukrainian refugees had arrived into the State as of last Friday, according to the Department of Justice. Those fleeing the Russian invasion are eligible for temporary protection under an EU directive activated in response to the war.

The measure provides refugees fleeing Ukraine with immediate access to the labour market, along with access to social welfare, accommodation, education and other State supports.

There are no official figures yet for the number of Ukrainian children who have joined primary and secondary schools.

A Department of Education spokesman said it has been responding through the provision of school places locally, as the need arises, and planning for the medium and long term in alignment with other Government departments.

While early estimates were that the need for school places may have been in the "low thousands", Minister for Education Norma Foley said recently this number has been "moving upwards". She has pledged that supports for children learning English will be expanded in schools.

In addition, Ukrainian students arriving to Ireland are being treated in the same way as Irish or EU students. They will not be subject to international fees and will be entitled to grants and supports.

Mr Harris has pledged that third level students from Ukraine arriving in the State will be able to continue their studies. In addition, universities have pledged to provide places for an estimated 46 Irish students who had to leave Ukraine in the middle of their studies. The majority of these were studying medicine or dentistry.

‘Significant increase’

A spokeswoman for the Mr Harris has said any additional college places for returning Irish students or Ukrainians will not reduce the numbers set aside for CAO applicants in the coming academic year. She said the Minister expects to be in a position to announce a “significant increase” in medicine places shortly.

Talks have been taking place between Mr Harris's department, the Higher Education Authority and universities on the matter. The HSE is a key player in the discussions as work placements are a mandatory part of medical training.

One higher education source said another option is increasing the State’s contribution for the education of medical students from Ireland and the EU, so universities would be less reliant on international students who pay significantly higher fees.

Separately, the European Research Council has appealed to its grantees to provide temporary employment to refugee researchers and support staff, such as technician and lab managers, from Ukraine.

The council has contacted all its 5,600 grantees and is collecting information on possible job opportunities. Several Irish universities have won council grants earlier this year worth €12 million.