By Martha Brennan
The Minister for Education has announced the addition of an extra €1 million in financial aid for student teachers.
The money is being allocated to the Student Assistance Fund, which gives funding to students completing professional Masters of Education courses.
The Fund helps student teachers who are struggling with the cost of tuition fees and unpaid school placements.
The two-year Masters programme replaced the old Hdip course, and can be costly for students.
Tuition can cost up to €12,000 and the courses often involve costly Gaeltacht trips and unpaid work placements in schools.
The Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, said he was aware of the financial demands placed on the students, and stated that the money would give a significant boost for those in financial difficulty.
He said the move was part of the Department of Education’s wider response to shortages of teachers in key areas and said “addressing the current and future challenges in teacher supply is a national priority to which I am fully committed.”
The new funding brings the total Student Assistance Fund to just over €10 million this year.
Students can apply for support under the fund if they experience exceptional financial need.
The Union of Students in Ireland lobbied extensively for the increase, and welcomed the announcement.
However, with an additional 2,200 students set to begin the programme next year, the USI stated that the government needs a long-term solution to ease the pressure on student teachers, and encourage a more diverse range of teachers in Ireland.
“The high cost of attending Gaeltacht courses, school placement and masters costs are a big deterrent for those entering the profession and hugely affects the diversity of those who end up teaching in our classrooms,” USI president Síona Cahill said.
Cahill noted that the fund breaks down to a small amount per individual, and there is no guarantee a student will receive it unless they can prove their financial situation and costs leading up to the application.
“The Government needs to strongly consider reinstating the Gaeltacht grant which was erased in 2012, and would have an even wider positive affect for student teachers entering and progressing through the education system across demographics,” she stated.
She also criticized the timing of the announcement, which comes over halfway through college term time.
“USI is also concerned that the timing of this announcement may mean a scramble at administrative level by under-pressure college access offices and staff, who will have to figure out how to promote, administer and divide the fund in a way that is appropriate and fair. They needed this funding information last summer.”
The USI has been highly critical of the government’s decision to remove the Gaeltacht grant in 2012. The grant gave financial aid for student teachers who had to attend mandatory Gaeltacht courses around the country. The courses can be costly, as they often include paying for travel and accommodation over a few weeks, and require taking time off work.
The Master’s in Education programme in NUI Galway costs EU students €5,300 a year and non-EU students €14,250 a year.
In 2018, the allocation for the financial aid fund was €9.1 million and around 16,000 students currently benefit from the fund annually.