Students from rural areas of Donegal are facing mounting stress over college and university education in the new academic year, according to Donegal TD Pearse Doherty.
Difficulties with poor broadband and uncertainty over college attendance and accommodation have left families with new worries as they plan for September.
Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Pearse Doherty is calling on the new Minister for Higher and Further Education, Innovation and Research Simon Harris to find solutions as soon as possible.
Deputy Doherty said he has been contacted by many students and parents who are worried and stressed about how the new realities facing students this year will play out.
He said: “In normal times, having to travel from rural Donegal to attend colleges and universities in the big towns and cities is an expensive and stressful experience. This has only been added to by the current pandemic.
“For one, there is a massive issue with access to broadband in the county and there isn’t a day that goes by that my offices aren’t dealing with queries from frustrated constituents who cannot access decent internet. This includes students and also workers who now have to work from home. This is going to be an issue when the education of our students and young people is going to be affected in the longer term because of the poor connections. We have been continually raising this and until the National Broadband Plan is rolled out, an interim solution must be a top priority for the new Government.
“Students are being directed to broadband hubs, and it is often the case that these hubs are 20km or more from their home. How are students expected to get to and from these rural hubs in the absence of proper public transport infrastructure; and when they are there, where are they meant to go for the hours that they have to be there for these lectures? Not every student has the luxury of a car.”
Doherty has also called on the Minister to address the cost of renting accommodation where students will now only need to physically attend colleges once or twice a month.
“There have been cases which have been brought to my attention where students and their parents have signed leases for accommodation, at enormous expense, in cities and towns across Ireland; only to now be told that physical attendance by the student at the college may only be required once a fortnight or once a month. This is causing hardship and stress for students from rural areas.
“The financial impact on families of this wasted money is a source of immense worry for many and again I urged the Minister to address this issue and engage with third level institutions and accommodation providers to find a solution.
“We cannot allow the situation to continue where we have a split in funding and resource allocation with those in disadvantage and forgotten rural areas being left behind,” Doherty concluded.