Holly Cairns TD, Social Democrats spokesperson for Further and Higher Education, is calling for greater supports for third level students who are encountering difficulties with online learning.

Holly said:

“This year’s college experience is like no other and is proving to be a very uncertain and trying time for many students. With practically all teaching and learning moving online, students and colleges are encountering fresh issues that need to be resolved.

“During the summer, third level institutions and students’ unions were doing their best to prepare for the challenges of this academic year. However, with most teaching and learning moving online, fresh issues are arising. Some online learning systems do not have the capacity to meet the increased demand, leading to systems crashing.

“Also, due to funding cuts over the past decade, libraries do not have sufficient access to online books to cater for students’ needs. All college libraries should have multiple virtual copies of all required books and journals. When students cannot get into the library, it is essential that as much content as possible is available online.

“To ensure that all students can participate in third level education this year, they need access to appropriate IT equipment. The Government’s laptop scheme was a positive initiative but needs to be extended to facilitate all students who cannot afford one. The demand for this particular support exceeds supply, with thousands of families on PUP or wage subsidies and students not able to get part-time jobs to fund their education. I have called for an extension of this scheme in the budget.

“The Government and most colleges initially told students they would be on campus this year. However, with teaching and learning moving online, there is now an obligation on Minister Harris to provide proper equipment. I have been contacted by students who have to use their phones to do college work – this is simply unacceptable.

“Poor and non-existent broadband in many rural areas remains a problem for students. A number of weeks ago, I suggested that the Minister provide funding to develop rural hubs and provide students with grants to access existing ones, such as the Ludgate in Skibbereen, which offers student rates. The Minister promised to discuss this with me but the meeting has yet to materialise.

“Major issues also exist around student accommodation as people are looking for refunds or new terms as a result of Covid-19 restrictions. There is a lack of specific legislation to protect student renters which results in some landlords taking advantage of the situation.

“The Union of Students in Ireland and individual college unions have been calling for additional protections to prevent these issues from arising. The Minister for Housing has committed to helping but it is crucial that he moves on this without further delay.”

October 10, 2020

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