Holly Cairns TD, Social Democrats spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, has said that any increase in third level places this year must be matched by additional State funding.

Holly said:

“The reopening of third level institutions will be as challenging as the reopening of our schools. Colleges and universities are doing the best they can to prepare against a backdrop of uncertainty.

“It has been reported that the Government plans to provide over 1,000 extra college places for high-demand courses. While any initiative that enables more people to attend college is welcome, we have to ask if the corresponding resources will be put in place too.

“More students will put additional stress on a third level sector that already operates at near full capacity. For example, medical courses cost multiples of what the universities receive per student.

“The announcement of additional numbers simply has to coincide with the announcement of additional resources.

“Extra places will also lead to knock on effects for student healthcare, mental health services, accommodation and a vastly over-subscribed SUSI. Without proper resources, these additional places will only be for those who can afford it.

“While the focus has been on prominent courses, such as medicine, law and engineering, the minister needs to examine if additional places will also be needed in further education and skills training, such as apprenticeship schemes and agricultural courses.

“The provision of extra places also presents a challenge when colleges have to implement social distancing. Will this result in a de facto policy of many courses going mostly online? Students need to be informed of the arrangements in advance of committing to rental accommodation.

“Given the inevitable shift to remote learning during this pandemic, the minister should support calls from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) for an immediate reduction in the third level registration fees by a minimum of €500. This should be funded directly by the Government and not come out of the budgets of our third level institutions which are doing their best under extremely difficult circumstances.”

September 3, 2020

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