Asylum-seeking children can attend local national primary and secondary schools on the same basis as Irish children. This has been made an express right under the Reception Conditions Regulations.
The Irish Refugee Council and other organisations raised concern about access to education for children living in emergency accommodation. In November 2019, the Newstalk radio station reported that up to 30 children living in emergency Direct Provision accommodation were not attending school. The Irish Refugee Council, in the report ‘Reception Conditions Directive: One Year On report’, called on the Minister for Education to ensure children in emergency centres are enrolled in school, and it said the use of Bed and Breakfasts and hotels to accommodate protection applicants should be phased out as soon as possible.
When asked, in December 2019, about the issue of children in emergency accommodation not receiving education, the Minister for Education stated that children of international protection applicants are required to receive an education within a three month period following their arrival in this State, allowing for school holiday period, and that the Department of Education has seconded an official to the Department of Justice and Equality to deal with any queries that schools who are enrolling children from accommodation centres may have.
The City of Dublin Education and Training Board Separated Children’s Service has offered educational services and support to separated children since 2001. The most prominent feature of the service is their Refugee Access Programme, which is a transition service for newly arrived separated children and other young people ‘from refugee backgrounds’. The programme provides intensive English instruction, integration programmes and assists young people in preparing to navigate the Irish education system. Additionally, the service provides support after transition, including study support, outreach, a drop-in and a youth group.
Following the onset of COVID-19, particular issues of concern were raised with regard to access to education for children living in Direct Provision. Following the closure of primary and secondary schools in line with public health advice, the vast majority of schools in the state moved to remote learning through a variety of online resources. Residents reported that a lack of access to laptops and internet connectivity presented a significant difficulty for their children in accessing remote education. In addition, it should be noted that school is often regarded by many children resident in Direct Provision as a welcome reprieve from the confines of living within the system. During the closure of schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many children reported feeling a loss of their sense of normality and interaction that comes with the ability to attend school.
Vocational training is now available to protection applicants who have successfully received permission to access the labour market. Such an applicant may access vocational training on the same basis as an Irish citizen.
There is no automatic access to third level education in Universities and Colleges, or to non-vocational further education courses such as post-leaving certificate courses. Protection applicants can access third level education and non-vocational further education if they can cover the costs of the fees, get the fees waived or access private grants or scholarships.
In order to ameliorate the hardship associated with the high fees, which place third level education beyond the reach of many young people in the Direct Provision system, a pilot support scheme was introduced in September 2015, following the publication of the Working Group Report on the Protection Process. The scheme provided support in line with the Student Grant Scheme to eligible school leavers who were in the international protection system (other than those at the deportation order stage) and who were either: asylum applicants; subsidiary protection applicants; or leave to remain applicants. The eligibility requirements were stringent and meant that the vast majority of students did not satisfy the conditions set by the Department of Education. As a result, uptake had been very low, despite clear interest in further and higher education. Concerns were raised that the pilot scheme was so restrictive in nature that it may be very difficult to access. Most notably, in this respect, was the requirement that the applicant must have spent five years in the Irish education system. The Irish Refugee Council recommended that the criteria be amended to reduce the five-year requirement. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) also recommended that the pilot support scheme for free fees be altered to remove the criterion of five years as this presents for many an insurmountable barrier to accessing affordable third-level education.
On 10 August 2020, the Department of Further and Higher Education announced significant changes to the student support scheme for asylum seekers. Prospective applicants are no longer required to have completed the Leaving Certificate examination or have attended an Irish school for three years. Applicants are required to have been accepted on an approved third level course, to have been in the protection process for a combined period of three years and to have been resident in the State for a combined period of three years as of 31 August 2020.
In August 2021, it was announced that the Student Support Scheme would be expanded to include allow postgraduate applications for the 2021 to 2022 academic year.
As of August 2021, there had been a total of 187 applications to the Student Support Scheme since its inception in 2015, with 51 applicants qualifying for support.
A total of 108 applications were received under the Student Support Scheme in 2020, with 40 applicants qualifying for support. This was a fivefold increase in the number of applications, when compared to 2019. The successful applicants in 2020 were engaged in a range of studies, including nursing and healthcare, science, IT, engineering and business.
In 2022, the Student Support Scheme was re-named ‘the International Protection Student Scheme’ Funding pursuant to the scheme is now administered by SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland), as opposed to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Additionally, the three-year residency requirement is no longer considered as commencing on the 31st of August 2019, but rather the day prior to the course start date. Data in respect of the number of applications to the scheme for 2022 was not available at the time of updating.
Basic instruction on English and computer skills are offered to residents of some Direct Provision centres. Universities have some flexibility on whether to charge refugees third level non-EU fees or EU fees. Both are expensive but non-EU fees are much more expensive. This makes accessing third level education prohibitive for the majority of protection applicants.
A number of Irish Universities have taken steps to improve access for protection applicants. A total of seven out of the eight Irish universities offered full-time scholarships. 9 of the 11 institutes of technology also offer scholarships or access support. The Irish Refugee Council’s Education Fund, using donations from members of the public, makes grants to support access to higher education. In the academic year 2022-2023, the Education Fund supported 67 students to gain access to third level education with an average award of €650 per student.
As regards access to education and vocational training for adults, for protection applicants English language programmes are available but access often depends on the location of the Direct Provision centre. There are local based initiatives such as the SOLAS Orientation and Learning for Asylum Seekers programme in Galway and Mayo, the CREW project in Carlow and the Refugee Access Programme in Dublin.
 Regulation 17 Reception Conditions Regulations 2018.
 Separated Children’s Services, Youth and Education Services.
 IHREC, Ireland and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Ireland’s combined sixth and seventh periodic reports, January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2lAMB4T.
 Department of Further and Higher Education, Research and Skills, Continuation and expansion of Student Support Scheme for asylum seekers in the international protection system announced by Minister Harris, 27 August 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3qxHL8y.
 Irish Refugee Council, The Education System in Ireland: A guide for people seeking asylum, those with refugee status, subsidiary protection or permission to remain, 15 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tH2wk2.
 Information provided by Irish Refugee Council’s Education Officer, January 2023.
 For further information see European Commission, ICF study, Labour market integration of asylum seekers and refugees, Ireland, April 2016; See also Irish Refugee Council, Education in Ireland: A guide for protection applicants those with refugee status, subsidiary protection or permission to remain, 15 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3tH2wk2.