Stop the nitpicking over the provision of third level opportunity for asylum seeker students

Higher Education Authority appears to be concentrating on potential problems rather than solutions.

 

The bureaucracy and unnecessary delay involved in waiving college fees for those asylum seeker students who qualify for entry to third level education is a disappointing development. It adds to the stress experienced by students and their families at a time when they should be celebrating. It also raises questions about the willingness of officialdom to do the right thing for this small, disadvantaged group of individuals.

It is now four months since Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan announced she would abolish third level fees for asylum seekers who had been in the Irish education system for five years. But departmental officials are still working out details of the proposed reform as final CAO offers are being made. The Higher Education Authority, in charge of student funding and the allocation of places, appears to be concentrating on potential problems, rather than solutions. It is seeking clarity concerning student work placements – because asylum seekers are not allowed to work – among other things.

Such nitpicking would be laughable, if it wasn’t so serious. Earlier this year, a Government task force recommended that all asylum seekers should be allowed to work after nine months residency, so that particular problem may never arise. The number of potential students is tiny, 22 this year out of a total CAO application figure of 79,229. Some 60 asylum seekers, now in second level education, could become eligible over the next three or four years.

The growing refugee crisis in Africa and the Middle East has been cited by some as a reason for maintaining a harsh asylum regime to deter refugees. That is a mistaken view. Desperate people fleeing war and persecution will come anyway and will have to be accommodated. In the meantime, these asylum seeker children have the capacity to make a significant contribution to Irish society should be encouraged. Rather than placing further obstacles in their path, the HEA should provide them with access to education and the means of a better life.

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