A significant package to assist third level institutions to reopen and help end the digital divide will benefit students in Clare, Deputy Joe Carey said today.

Welcoming the funding, Deputy Carey said the €168 million package will ensure our third level institutions have the necessary tools to return to education in a safe manner and ensure all students can access remote learning.

The local Fine Gael TD 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 students seek to return in September. This significant financial package for our third level institutions will assist with their safe re-opening.

“In addition, significant further supports are being put in place for students, including increasing student supports, access to mental health services and a new scheme aimed at helping students with access issues.

“The Government also acknowledges that there is a significant digital divide emerging among the student population.

“Many students have difficulties accessing devices such as 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.

“Funding will also be provided for research projects that could not be completed during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Deputy Carey added: “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.”

Deputy Carey said his Fine Gael colleague, the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, is publishing a high level Further and Higher Education Roadmap, which will offer guidance on the return across further and higher education. 

Deputy Carey added: “This guidance has been prepared on a consultative basis with stakeholders and the assistance of public health expertise available to the 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.”