The New Programme for Government Reviewed
The Programme for Government (PfG) was passed by the members of each of the political parties meaning that a new Government can be formed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, 140 days after the general election was held. The Dáil met today to elect Micheal Martin as Taoiseach until 2022.
Before the Election, ICOS developed its election manifesto, which set out what we would like a new government to prioritise in order to advance the rights of international students. You can read that manifesto at this link.
The PfG commits to review and update the International Education strategy for Ireland, recognising the importance of overseas students and academics to our higher education sector.
So what does the Programme for Government (PFG) say more specifically?
ICOS Ask: Affordable Student Accommodation
The PFG makes a general commitment to work with Higher Education Institutions to ensure that more accommodation is built on and off-campus, using cost-rental and other models.
More generally, the PFG outlines a number of measures at putting affordability at the centre of the housing system such as providing funding to local authorities to make available serviced sites at a cost in towns and villages to allow people to build homes, affordable housing, cost rental, and building housing.
ICOS Ask: International Education Mark (IEM)
Disappointingly, there is no mention of the IEM. Despite the necessary legislation passing a year ago, the legislation has not commenced and is no believed to be ready to commence until well into the lifetime of this government.
ICOS asked for a commitment to introduce this important reforming quality system, but unfortunately, there is no commitment to this in the PfG.
ICOS Ask: University of Sanctuary
The PfG commits to recognising the important work of the Universities of Sanctuary project and pledges that the State will increase the support for people in direct provision to access third-level education. There is also a commitment to supporting the “Community Sponsorship Ireland Programme” to support the integration of refugees.
ICOS Ask: Mental Health Services
The PfG pledges to improve access to support positive mental health in school and supporting initiatives around student care and welfare on campus; this would include dealing with consent, wellbeing, mental health, drug, alcohol, and substance abuse.
The PfG also commits to establish a Youth Assembly with various modules, ones for urban and rural young people, focusing on important issues to young people in their future including social media, communications, mental health, and wellbeing.
The new national health policy Sharing the Vision - a Mental Health Policy for Everyone will be introduced allowing individuals access to a range of services that meet their needs.
The PfG also provides that mental health supports will be available for students in Higher and Further Education.
ICOS Ask: Student Insurance
There is nothing in the PfG specific to international student insurance reform, however business disruption insurance and travel insurance are referenced.
ICOS Ask: Public Sector Duty
The PfG commits to introduce a plain language requirement for all public service communication so that people can understand information the first time they hear or read it.
There is also a commitment to increase the number of public and civil servants from ethnic minority backgrounds.
A Cabinet Committee on Social Affairs and Equality will meet at least once every four weeks. They will get detailed reports on priority areas and consider the implementation of commitments and reforms in the areas of social policy, equality, and public service. Have a paid internship programme within government departments, directed at migrant communities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
ICOS Ask: Employment Pathways
There is no specific provision on pathways for highly skilled international graduates. The government does want to expand apprenticeships to new and non-traditional areas and work with employers to create new pathways for young people into employment.
ICOS Ask: Immigration Reform
The new Government wants to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents to regularise their status within 18 months of forming the new Government. The Government wants to create and implement a new Migrant Integration Strategy.
ICOS Ask: Hate Crime Legislation
The PfG commits to Hate Crime legislation within twelve months of forming the Government based on the aggravated offenses model. The legislation will create specific offenses, to ensure that those who target victims due to their association with certain identity characteristics are identified as perpetrators of hate crime. Those who influence and incite others to hate minority groups can be prosecuted. The Incitement to Hatred Act will be revised and updated to take into account the public consultation conducted in 2019.
The PfG mentions publishing a new national Action Plan against Racism and a revised National Anti-Bullying Plan.
The new PfG offers a mixed-bag for international students. Measures taken to improve housing and mental health services will benefit everyone, including students and international students, and the commitment to bring in reforms relating to hate crime are welcome. The focus of Universities of Sanctuary is also welcome, with a pledge to recognize their importance, however it remains to be seen how this translates into action.
The biggest disappointment, however, is the failure to mention the International Education Mark (IEM), which has the potential to drastically improve the experience of international students at both higher education and English language schools level. The absence of the IEM, could be seen as an indicator of the low priority of the quality mark, however when the Department of Education releases its new strategy in the coming weeks, ICOS will be able to assess the education priorities fully.