Third-level students to receive €250 refunds in coming weeks

Thousands of extra college places created to ease CAO points pressure will be retained

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris: ‘I am really worried about the mental health and wellbeing of students.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris: ‘I am really worried about the mental health and wellbeing of students.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Thousands of third-level students are due to get refunds or credit notes worth up to €250 over the coming weeks.

The once-off payments – worth a total of€50 million – are aimed at compensating students for the move towards greater online learning this year.

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris told an Oireachtas education committee on Thursday that those eligible for the refunds would be undergraduate students who have paid the €3,000 student registration fee or who are in receipt of Susi grants.

He said he hoped a top-up grant would be made available to students on Susi grants before Christmas, if possible.

Details are still being worked out on how the payment will be issued to other students, but it may take the form of a fees rebate or credit note.

Mr Harris is due to bring proposals to Cabinet next week with details on how the scheme will operate.

The Minister also confirmed that more than 2,000 additional higher education course places that were created in order to ease CAO points pressure last September would be retained in the system over the coming years.

This development will help ease points pressure for this year’s Leaving Cert students, who are due to sit State exams next June.

“It wasn’t a once-off blip. We’ve banked those places, if you like, which is important,” Mr Harris said.

“This year was a horrific year for students , but I hope one of the good things to come out of it will be a very significant investment in expanding higher education places.”

Drop-out rates

In addition, he said, funding has been provided for 2,700 undergraduate college places next year to address demographic growth pressure.

Mr Harris is encouraging colleges to prioritise on-campus activity for first-year and final-year students, assuming Covid-19 restrictions ease.

The move is aimed partly at addressing concerns that student drop-out rates could rise due to the emphasis on remote learning.

“I am really worried about the mental health and wellbeing of students and about drop-out rates,” he said.

“If, God willing, we get back to Level 3, that does mean more activity on campus than at Level 5 … It is not unreasonable that, in return for the massive investment we are making to the university sector for helping them with Covid, that we say we want to see an expansion of on-site campus activity, subject to public health advice.”

Minister for Education Norma Foley also told the Oireachtas education committee that about half a billion euro was being invested in keeping schools open and supporting ICT and remote learning.

She also confirmed that €55 million in minor works grants for primary and post-primary schools would be paid in early December.

Ms Foley said the earlier payment of these grants would gives schools a good lead-in period for planning and undertaking works next year.

The grant is aimed at assisting schools to enhance ventilation, purchase furniture or adapt toilet areas to help deal with the Covid-19 threat.

In the case of primary schools, funding will consist of a €5,500 basic grant plus funding per student ranging from €18.50 per mainstream pupil to €74 per pupil with special needs attending a special school or special class .

For example, a 60-pupil primary school would receive about €6,610 and a 300-pupil school about €11,050.

In the case of a secondary school, this would consist of a €10,000 basic grant plus €55 per mainstream student and€220 per student in a special class.

For example, a 50-student school would receive €37,500 and a 1,000-student school would receive €65,000.