Deputy Patrick Costello advocates for supports for children coming from state care to third level.
Deputy Costello – In his opening statement, the Minister commented on not wanting people locked out and ensuring access to education for all. I want to raise a particularly vulnerable group, namely, children who are leaving the experience of State care. This vulnerable group has complicated and broad-ranging needs. No two individuals really are the same in this case. If we look across at our nearest neighbour, many universities like Portsmouth, Greenwich, Keele and Birmingham have introduced a specialist designated staff member to deal with this group of students.
I have written to the Minister already on this. I would appreciate if the Minister could give us an insight into whether we could provide funding to set up a designated staff member to reach out to young people in care to ensure they reach their educational potential and if he would possibly be able to even meet Empowering People In Care, EPIC, the independent advocacy group which is pushing the needs of young people in care.
Minister Harris – I thank Deputy Costello for his paper and the proposal that he sent me and the amount of work that has gone into this. I will take up his offer to meet EPIC with him. I would welcome that opportunity. We want to break down barriers. We want education to be for all. I accept we have much work to do on that. Let us do that. The Deputy’s proposal merits serious consideration.
I wish to share with the Deputy some of the initial thoughts from my Department on this. Each higher education institution already has what we call an access infrastructure in place and this provides for both pre-entry and post-entry work required to support students from target groups or vulnerable groups to access higher education. This year we will be developing a new national access plan. It will be an opportunity to examine all of these issues as well.
It is important to say, although this line often bugs me, that all higher education institutions are autonomous. It bugs me because it sounds like we are passing the buck but that is not the intention of the comment. It is more that we will need to bring them into the conversation in terms of how they apply their access policy. There are a number of supports already in place through access offices and their teams support students who are care leavers. However, I take the point that there is not a specific workforce for this.
Having read Deputy Costello’s paper quite thoroughly, I see real benefit in sitting down with him, with EPIC and with others who have an interest in this and seeing if we can make progress in the context of the national access plan. I thank Deputy Costello for his work and considerable thought on this. I look forward to engaging with him.