For Written Answer on : 07/11/2023
Question Number(s): 1384 Question Reference(s): 47472/23
Department: Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
Asked by: David Stanton T.D.
To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science the way his Department is supporting students with severe disabilities to access and attend third level education and further education colleges; the specific funding that he has provided to support students in this regard; if this includes the provision of an appropriate personal assistant service; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Inclusion is a core goal for my Department across the tertiary education system and equity of access to Further & Higher Education continues to be a national priority for the Government and my Department. While higher education institutions are autonomous, the approach of my Department has been to offer a range of supports which enable them to meet national objectives, including those related to inclusion and supports for people with disabilities.
The Fund for Students with Disabilities is a critical intervention which supports participation by students with a disability in further and higher education. The fund is an important driver for equity of access to education for students with a disability. Over €7.6million is allocated to support students in Higher Education and Solas allocated €2.5 million to this fund in 2022 to support students in Further Education & Training.
In January 2021, I announced approval for €5.8 million towards strategic initiatives aimed at supporting students with disabilities to access and engage with higher education funded under the Fund for Students with a Disability (FSD).
In 2022, €3 million of funding was provided by my Department for Universal Design Measures in Higher Education Institutions. Institutions have provided their proposed project plans and work is ongoing.
In support of our National Access Plan objective to improve opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to engage in higher education I have issued a competitive call for proposals which asked Higher Education Institutions to consider how they can enhance provision for students with an intellectual disabilities. A fund of €3 million per year over three years is available to support enhanced provision. Proposals have recently been received and the process of assessment is ongoing.
There are a range of supports available in the FET sector for learners with a disability, including through the Fund for Students with a Disability (FSD). In addition, there is provision of specific programmes for learners with a disability who may require more intensive supports through the Specialist Training Provision (STP) programme. The STP programme addresses the identified training high support needs of people with both physical and intellectual disabilities who are experiencing exclusion and labour market disadvantage in the form of vocational training programmes. Courses are generally one to two years in duration, are delivered all year round and lead to accreditation at levels 1-6 on the NFQ.
Course examples include ICT and vocational multi-skills. STPs can provide a number of enhanced services for its learners including additional training duration; adapted equipment; transport arrangements; enhanced programme content which may be required for a person with a disability to achieve their potential. An enhanced trainer-learner ratio is available on these programmes. SOLAS allocated almost €43 million to the STP programme in 2022.
SOLAS is also currently overseeing an independent evaluation of STP programme, which provides training for persons with a disability with higher support needs. This independent evaluation is due to be finalised by the end of the year.