An additional €3 million in funding for mental health supports will help students as they return to third-level education this September, a Fine Gael Senator has said.
Senator Aisling Dolan, Fine Gael Spokesperson on Education, Science & Innovation said we need to facilitate a full reopening of college campuses, to the largest extent possible, to ensure students benefit from the whole student experience.
She also highlighted the need for colleges to engage with students as soon as possible on their timetables to allow them make decisions about accommodation.
Senator Dolan said, “Online lectures were far from a perfect substitution for on-campus learning for students over the past two years as many struggled with lockdown which had a huge impact on their wellbeing and mental health.
“Isolation was a huge issue for young people; some students were in their family homes for months on end without seeing any of their classmates or friends, while others had to stay in student accommodation on their own in order to keep up with their online work.
“Minister Simon Harris announced a €105 million package in July to fund a safe on-site return to third level next month. The package included €21 million for extra student support with an additional €3 million going directly towards supporting student mental health. This is in recognition of the particularly tough impact Covid-19 has had on students and it will ensure that our students are fully supported and have access to the help they need as they return to campus this autumn.
“As well as the impact remote learning has had on students’ mental health, it has also had practical implications for young people and their families. Many students had previously relied on using services offered by libraries which were suddenly shut, some people did not have access to a reliable internet service while others spent thousands of euros on accommodation that they didn’t end up using.
“Students are once again facing difficult decisions regarding these practical issues as they are uncertain about how their return to college within the next few weeks will look. Earlier in the summer, Minister Harris confirmed that third-level education is an essential service and will return on-site in September. Students now want clarity on the practicalities of this.
“We need a return to the whole college experience, in so much as it is safe to do so. While I hope to see students return to in-person lectures and tutorials, experiences outside the classroom are just as important. Many universities are planning induction programmes for first year students to introduce them to their new campus, as well as setting up peer mentor programmes to support them as they start college.
“Students must have the opportunity to join and return to clubs and societies. Funding needs to be made available to these groups so that they can operate within the restrictions, by using outdoor spaces, renting large halls etc.
“Key to a successful return to on-campus learning will be a high rate of vaccine take-up amongst our students. We’ve seen phenomenal numbers coming from young people receiving vaccines over the summer, and third-level institutions and key influencers can actively promote the rollout in order to get us over the line in ensuring as many students as possible get vaccinated,” concluded Senator Dolan.