New €16.5m fund to aid lone parents education return

By Aura McMenamin

A new €16.5m fund to widen access to education has been announced by the government, with support aimed at lone parents returning to education.

The Department of Education announced that the money will fund new initiatives over the next three years to widen access to higher-level education.

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The money will fund bursaries, support programmes and ‘hardship’ supports for students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college. The money will go towards the Student Assistance Fund which provides financial assistance for disadvantaged students who would not otherwise be able to benefit from higher education without external support.

The government estimates that around 2,000 extra ‘disadvantaged students’ will be supported. According to the Department, at least 120 socio-economically disadvantaged lone parents will benefit from bursaries worth €5,000 for 600 students. The total cost of this will be €6m.

According to the Department, led by Minister for Education Richard Bruton, around 2,000 students from non-traditional backgrounds, including 200 lone parents, will benefit from the €7.5m that is going to be invested in support programmes to help these students successfully complete their course.

A further €3m over three years in increased funding for the hardship supports to help students, with lone parents being prioritised.

The announcement was welcomed by St Vincent de Paul (SVP) who help with the cost of fees, accommodation, transport, childcare and school materials including textbooks.

SVP Social Policy Officer Tricia Kelly commented: “The announcement of additional bursaries of up to €5,000 for some categories of students and an increase in budget for the Student Assistance Fund are positive developments”

 She said that SVP support many students to access and participate in third level and know that costs are a major barrier to participation for low income and disadvantaged students.

 Other groups the funds hope to target are those entrants from under-represented socio-economic groups and communities, entrants with disabilities, mature entrants, members of the Irish Traveller community, students entering on the basis of a further education award, part-time flexible learners, and ethnic minorities.

Minister Bruton said: “Lone parents and ethnic minorities are included as a target group for the initiatives announced today. 120 bursaries will be earmarked for disadvantaged lone parents participating in Higher Education on either a full-time or part-time basis.

“At least 200 of the new students to be targeted by the Higher Education Access Fund will be lone parents. ]

“The allocation of the €1m to the Student Assistance Fund for part-time students will be prioritised for lone parents.”

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