Aisling Dolan, Senator for Roscommon-Galway held a successful public consultation meeting with Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on Thursday last (25th February) to ask students and their parents for feedback on the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) programme. This is the main financial support scheme for students studying in Ireland and abroad. Student grants are divided into maintenance and fee grants. “Minister Simon Harris is forging a path in this brand new Department for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science,” said Senator Dolan adding; “We see new policies and funds under the Minister's responsibilities with over €15 million allocated for student support in terms of access to devices, doubling the Student Assistance Fund and support for Mental Health Services.”
The Fine Gael Senator said that thousands of secondary students in 17 secondary schools in the constituency of Roscommon and East Galway are planning their next steps after school; “The SUSI student support programme is sometimes the only way that students can go on to do further study.” Senator Aisling Dolan said that without state financial support, she would not have been able to complete her degree after school and she highlighted how financial support is crucial to ensuring students can reach their maximum potential. “It is important for students and parents to look at all the options available to reach a chosen career path with so many NFQ courses offered at part-time and full-time with further and higher education courses. The Minister also highlighted his goal of expanding the CAO application to include these options.”
Senator Dolan added: “The level of engagement from students, parents and schools in the area showed that the SUSI scheme is in urgent need of review as students highlighted concerns with reckonable income as many work part-time jobs. Thank you to all for taking the time to join in this consultation.”
The event saw Career Guidance Counsellors from secondary schools in the region speak about reducing or removing registration fees so that the maintenance grant could go further. Nuala Kilgannon, Adult Guidance Co-ordinator with GRETB (Galway Roscommon Education Training Board) encouraged the Minister to include Adult Education Services and School Career Guidance as stakeholders in the SUSI consultation process. “The GRETB is involved at many levels with further and higher education and it is important to support all our learners and particularly our mature students, especially as lifelong learning means we can have many careers,” said Nuala Kilgannon.
Edwina Finneran, Career Guidance Counsellor at Roscommon Community College noted: “This was a useful forum to hear people’s concerns and I look forward to the Minister’s reforms on the SUSI scheme.” Parents also asked questions as they would be first time applicants this year for the SUSI programme.
The Minister highlighted the positive supports being provided to postgraduate students with maximum payments rising from €2,000 to €3,500 and the income threshold from €31,000 to €54,240. Minister Harris also highlighted the timelines for the SUSI consultation and that these changes could be put in place for Budget 2022. Senator Dolan said it was a fantastic success; “SUSI gives students support as they continue their studies after secondary schools. We have many areas of disadvantage and families who are struggling to ensure students can get by in college. We also have more single parent families who are facing additional challenges. Now is the time to see that the SUSI support programme is fit for purpose.”
Minister Simon Harris said: “I was so delighted to meet students, teachers and guidance counsellors with Senator Dolan. They outlined some of the challenges they face and it gave me the chance to hear first-hand some of the improvements we need to make to the student support scheme. Thank you to everyone who took the time and thank you to Senator Dolan for organising. The West was the first stop and hopefully I will be able to visit in person shortly.”