Dáil Éireann - Volume 388 - 13 April, 1989

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - ERASMUS Budget Allocation.

10. Miss Colley asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Ireland receives only 1 per cent of the total ERASMUS budget available, with the result that many students receive derisory grants which cover little more than their travel expenses; and in view of the difficulties faced by Irish students and the greater organisation of students at European level through the Western European Student Information Bureau, if she intends appointing a representative of the Union of Students in Ireland to the NGAA.

Mrs. O'Rourke: The method by which money for student grants is allocated to member states is fixed by the terms of the ERASMUS decision adopted in 1987 and it cannot be changed during the present phase of the programme which will operate up to 30 June next year. In accordance with the decision the budget available for student grants is divided between member states on the basis of the number of third level students modulated by the number of 18 to 25 year olds in each member state. This system provides funding which is, in general terms, proportional to the number of third level students in each member state.

The decision assumed a somewhat similar level of demand for student grants across the Community countries. This did not, however, turn out to be the case. The difficulty is that demand for student mobility grants is very high in Ireland and grants are relatively small as a result, compared with some other countries where demand is lower and grants accordingly are higher. I should, of course, point out that the ERASMUS grants are supplementary in nature and are not intended to cover full mobility costs.

The position is, however, unsatisfactory and I would like to inform the Deputy that at a meeting of Community [1479] Education Minister last November I pressed home very strongly the difficulties being experienced here under the present arrangements and emphasised the need for an improved method of allocating money for student grants in the next phase of the programme.

The Commission is fully aware of and sympathetic to our difficulties and these were highlighted in bilateral discussions which took place recently. The Deputy will be glad to know that as a result of these discussions we succeeded in having the basis of our student numbers reviewed. This will increase our share of the student grant money by about 10 per cent in 1989-90. Moreover, the over-all amount of the ERASMUS budget allocated to student mobility in 1989-90 will be approximately double the 1988-89 provision and this should also help to alleviate the situation.

The NGAA will kept the Union of Students in Ireland informed of any developments but since the amount of money available for student grants is fixed by the terms of the decision I see no useful purpose in nominating a student to the NGAA.

Miss Quill: I am glad the Minister has already addressed herself to the difficulties which arose when this scheme was first put into place. Can the Minister tell us if it is her intention to continue to press very hard — the next review is due in June — for a larger share for Ireland form the ERASMUS fund bearing in mind how deficient Irish students are in modern European languages? Secondly, having sought, successfully we hope, a larger share for the country, is it then the Minister's intention to recommend to the NGAA, the National Grant Awarding Authority, that perhaps a minimum grant ought to be guaranted to all students suitably qualified to participate in this scheme, bearing in mind again the distance Ireland is from mainland Europe and the travel costs involved as a result and bearing in mind also the higher living cost for Irish students?

[1480] An Ceann Comhairle: This is becoming a very long question, Deputy.

Miss Quill: I have been waiting a long time to get it in.

An Ceann Comhairle: I appreciate the Deputy's position.

Mrs. O'Rourke: As Deputy Quill has said, the present phase will end on 30 June and we are now already in negotiations about that, so we will have to take decisions on that well before that date. Certainly we would like to see a better method of allocating grant money to the member states and the point the Deputy has made with regard to mobility is very relevant to us because distancewise we are much farther from any of the centres than many of the other countries. This factor has been taken into account in the lingual programme and we hope to adopt the same principles for ERASMUS. We are pressing very strongly in the light of the experience gained in the last two years of ERASMUS.

Miss Quill: Would the Minister not consider that nominating a member of the students' union to the NGAA would be the best way of getting adequate feedback, from the experience gained by students who have already embarked on this programme, to the NGAA, and would be the shortest route to keep them all very well informed as to the exact requirements to make a success of this scheme?

Mrs. O'Rourke: I am satisfied with the composition of the NGAA, and that the people on it are very competent to deal with the matter. I had a meeting recently with the Union of Students of Ireland and I understand they have made several representations to the NGAA and are reasonably satisfied that their views are being listened to. There have been difficulties. Nobody disguises the fact that ERASMUS as it applied to Ireland did not work out as we would have hoped. I hope ERASMUS Mk II, for which we [1481] are now making representations, and our case to Europe through the Education Ministers, will be infinitely of more benefit to Irish students.

Mr. M. Higgins: Would the Minister not agree that there is not a case really for the exclusion of the Union of Students of Ireland and that it is the most vital and imaginative way of disseminating information about the scheme? Will she consider at least enlarging the membership of the NGAA so as to facilitate USI membership?

Mrs. O'Rourke: In an aside, let me say it sounds like GAA.

Miss Quill: They have more influence.

Mrs. O'Rourke: I am very satisfied with the composition of the board and the union of students have made their case to them very strongly in several matters. The body are working for the good of students——

Mr. M. Higgins: We all are.

Mrs. O'Rourke: ——and for the dissemination of the ERASMUS scheme. I am due to meet the USI shortly again and I will listen to the case which they put to me on that point.