Union of Students in Ireland President, Lorna Fitzpatrick and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Kevin McStravock had a constructive meeting with the new Minister for Further and Higher Education, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris on Thursday afternoon (July 2).

The need for further students supports, to urgently address the digital divide and action needed following the recent student Sexual Experiences Survey were among the key issues the USI discussed – and proposed solutions to – with Minister Harris.

Issues around student supports featured heavily in the discussion with the USI outlining areas in need of immediate review such as the SUSI eligibility criteria and the need to expand the thresholds to ensure all those who need to access SUSI can do so. The need for increased funding for the Student Assistance Fund and the Back to Education Allowance were also outlined by USI.

The urgent need to address the digital divide ahead of the new academic year was also a key point of discussion – USI has called for specific funding to be made available to support students to access devices and for connectivity issues to be resolved through expanding networks and creating new access points.

On the back of a discussion about the need for student partnership, the Minister agreed to work with the USI to develop a framework for supporting Students’ Unions.

USI will continue to engage with Minister Harris on the need for a sustainable funding model for Higher Education and are keen to ensure all relevant stakeholders form part of this discussion.

The Minister agreed to a meeting with all relevant parties connected to the recent student Sexual Experiences Survey by USI and Active Consent in NUI Galway, within the next two weeks and another formal engagement with USI on the broader range of issues before the end of the month.

USI hopes the creation of this new department will lead to a strong education system that is truly accessible to all.

The union is committed to working with Minister Harris and his new department to ensure our higher education system is funded, accountable and supportive for all students.