Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris has said that a private college should meet with each of the students affected after it was revealed they would not be registered social care workers after completing their course.
Dozens of students studying social care at Dublin Business School (DBS) had been told recently that they would not be able to join the register with Coru, the body regulating health and social care professionals, once they complete the course.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio on Wednesday, Mr Harris said that he had spoken to the president of DBS late one evening this week, and said that refunding the students affected should be an option “on the table”.
“I’m extremely concerned about how students have been treated in relation to this matter,” he said.
“I think it’s absolutely essential now that DBS proceed with their plans to meet individually, one-on-one, with each of the students and explore all of the options that are available.
“There are some options available, for some students it may be possible to transfer to other accredited courses.
“For other students, it may be possible to use the time between now and joining the register to clock up enough professional experience to join the register.
“But I also think we’ve got to be honest here, students in DBS thought they were signing up for something that turned out to be very different. And I do think there will be a need for DBS to recompense the students, regardless of the outcome.
“I do think from hearing a lot of the students, though, that their priority number one is to try and get registered.
“There also (are) lessons to be learned here. Very significantly, at the end of the day, I don’t believe it was put up in lights for students to see very clearly that this course was not currently an automatic way of getting on the Coru register.”
Mr Harris said that the legalities of penalties being imposed on colleges in future cases like this can be examined, but added that a circular on “clear guidance” when providing students with information will need to be issued.
Dublin Business School and Coru have been contacted for comment.
On Wednesday, Mr Harris is launching the State’s fourth National Access Plan, which aims to help students access further and higher education courses, particularly people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, people with disabilities and people from the Traveller community.
“It’s different to previous plans because it tries to have a better understanding of what disadvantage is,” the minister said.
“So when we talk about socio-economically disadvantaged people, we’re including, for the first time ever in a National Access Plan, students who have experienced the care system, students who have gone through the foster care system.
“We’re including, for the first time ever, survivors of domestic violence.
“When it comes to disability, we’re including autistic students and students with an intellectual disability.”
The success of the plan will be tracked by measuring nine criteria across four areas: including across the priority groups of students with a disability; students attending DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools and students who are lone parents.
Mr Harris said that previous access plans have been worth around €65 million a year, while this plan has been bolstered to €100 million euros a year – with €12 million, spread out over four years, going towards making college campuses more inclusive.