Nearly 350% increase in number of beneficiaries to the scheme in past 10 years
Working Group to be established to fully implement recommendations of the Review
Minister of Education and Skills Richard Bruton and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor today welcomed the publication of the first external review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD).
This is the first formal external review since this fund was established in 1994. The review notes that from 2007 to 2014 the number of students being supported through the Fund grew from 3,500 to over 10,000 beneficiaries and more recent figures provided by the HEA demonstrates that the significant increase in numbers applying and eligible for funding has continued into the 2016/2017 academic year with over 12,000 students now receiving assistance.
The Fund was established to support full-time students on approved further and higher education courses with disabilities who might otherwise, because of financial reasons, suffer severe hardship or be unable to continue their third level studies. The Fund is managed by the Higher Education Authority on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, and is co-funded by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.
RSM Consultancy was commissioned by the HEA in April 2016 to undertake the review of the Fund and to make recommendations on the future policy and operation of the fund. The review concentrated on four main areas:
- Financial provision of the Fund;
- HEA model and guidelines;
- Student experience of the fund;
- Educational institutions and the fund.
The review evaluated the effectiveness of the Fund in supporting access and participation in further and higher education by students with disabilities. It also assessed whether the policies, guidelines and practices for the Fund are fit for purpose and in line with international best practice. The review made a number of recommendations on what aspects of the Fund are working well and where improvements could be made.
The Higher Education Authority has committed to fully implementing the recommendations of the Review and has committed to establishing a Working Group to oversee this implementation.
Speaking today, Minister Bruton said:
“Ensuring our education system is inclusive and meets the needs of all our students is a key priority of mine as Minister. The Fund for Students with Disabilities plays a vital role in ensuring students with disabilities can access and remain in further and higher education, by helping students overcome obstacles which might otherwise hinder them from completing their course. I was pleased that the review found that students’ experience of the fund is positive and I am committed to ensuring that a Working Group is established to implement any recommendations for improvement”.
Commenting today, Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. said:
“I welcome the publication of the report on the Fund for Students with Disabilities today. The Fund for Students with Disabilities is available to students with disabilities attending both further and higher education courses and to students attending approved courses in Northern Ireland, the UK and the EU. We want to ensure that students with disabilities can access and fully participate in their chosen courses and that essential funding is available to ensure that they successfully complete their chosen course of study. A review of the Fund is one of the key actions identified in the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015 – 2019 and I am pleased that this review has been completed”
Further information on the Review of the Fund for Students with Disabilities is available at www.hea.ie.