Ireland Moves to Help Asylum Seekers with Higher Education


A student asylum seeker in Ireland received a promise from the Education Minister that she would find her a place in college, but a bill that is soon to be passed won’t address her needs.

Anna Kern and her mother and two younger siblings came to Ireland from Ukraine two years ago. She now lives in Direct Provision housing in Knocknasheen, Co Limerick. No one in the family can legally work until they obtain refugee status.

She received 575 points in her Leaving Cert, writes Louise Kelly of the Independent, which is an exceptional score. Because of her position in the Direct Provision system, she has no access to help for paying for third-level education — no state support like the SUSI grant, nor the “free” fees scheme. One year of tuition would come to €25,000 that Kern would have to pay out of pocket.

Jimmy Woulfe and Niall Murray of the Irish Examiner quoted Kern on the struggle she had with the English language, despite receiving high marks. She said:

When I came here first I had very little English and had to use a dictionary a lot in class. From the very start I got great help and support from all my teachers here in Nano Nagle school.

The principal of Kern’s school, Marion Cummins, said that the government was not doing enough to help students like Kern, and asked for help from the government. She said that the schools are doing their part:

We take them into our schools, we embrace them, we teach them, we give them the best of Irish education– and then at the end we abandon them.

Kern had asked Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan to help her. On RTE’s Morning Ireland radio show, Kern said that O’Sullivan told her that she would have help in attending the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin to study physiotherapy.

However, it is unclear what type of help the minister will be able to grant Kern.

According to RTE News, O’Sullivan is working on a bill that will support asylum seekers who want to get third-level education, but it will not benefit Kern, since she has only been in the country for two years and has not completed the required five years of schooling. The Irish Refugee Council has an education fund, writes Joe Humphreys and Dan Griffin of the Irish Times, but it couldn’t cover the demand.

The Department of Education said that O’Sullivan made it clear that public funds would not be used for Kern.

O’Sullivan said:

She is a very impressive young woman. She didn’t obviously know what points she was going to get but she expected that she might get into college.

In fact, she was talking about her third choice but obviously she has got such a fantastic result she is being offered her first choice. It’s an individual case but I will give Anna every assistance I can.

[Public assistance would be for] people who have gone all the way through post-primary school– five years. Anna has done two years. So we are going to see if there is another way in which she can be helped but she is a fantastic young woman and congratulations to her on her achievement.

The new policy is based on a Working Group report on the Protection Process. It was published in June and chaired by Judge Bryan McMahon. It read:

The extension of student supports for third-level and post Leaving Certificate courses to persons who are protection applicants or are at the leave to remain stage, have been in the Irisih school system for five years or more, and satisfy the relevant academic and other eligibility criteria.

08 22, 2015
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