€15m government funding to address student digital divide

A new scheme announced by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD and Minister of State Niall Collins TD will provide €168 million of funding for third level institutions and students.

Notably, this new scheme includes €15 million to help us address the digital divide and give students the tools they need to continue their education.

Young woman works remotely on laptop

Minister Harris said: “Throughout the pandemic, further and higher education never closed. Even during the most restricted period of the pandemic, institutions and providers continued to provide education through emergency remote learning.

“We need to support them now as we seek to return in September. Today, I can confirm a significant financial package for our third level institutions to assist with their re-opening.

“In addition, I am pleased to confirm we have identified significant supports for our students, including increasing student supports, access to mental health services and a new scheme aimed at helping students with access issues.

“There is a significant digital divide emerging among our student population. Many students have difficulties accessing devices – laptops or tablets, while some can’t access WiFi and others need assistance in using the devices for college work. 

“This new scheme of €15 million will help us address that digital divide and give students the tools to continue their education.”

In addition, Minister Harris confirmed funding will be provided for research projects that could not be completed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking today, Minister Collins said: “The package today responds to the serious financial impact of Covid-19 on third level education but it also provides supports to meeting the student and learner requirements.

“A critical requirement has been identified for students and learners who are experiencing difficulty in accessing course provision and completing assessment owing to not having access to devices. This cohort are the most vulnerable students who need assistance and support to remain in education and complete their studies.”

In addition, Minister Harris is publishing a high level Further and Higher Education Roadmap, which will offer guidance on the return across further and higher education.  

“This guidance has been prepared on a consultative basis with stakeholders and the assistance of public health expertise available to my Department. This guidance is a live document and can change and update as public health advice evolves.

“We want to see students back at college but it must be safe for students, safe for staff and safe for the community. We must continue to stay vigilant and adapt our plans in line with the progression of Covid-19.

“With additional funding and guidance, our third level institutions have the necessary tools to return to education in a safe manner.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank all the stakeholders involved including the Higher Education Authority, the USI, SOLAS, Aontas, the Irish Universities Association for all their engagement and assistance as we work together to provide the best environment for our learners.”

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