Dáil Éireann - Volume 489 - 21 April, 1998
Written Answers. - Third Level Fees.
Mr. McGuinness Mr. McGuinness
752. Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will include such colleges as Portobello, Dublin 8, in the free fees scheme and the local authority grants scheme; if his Department will review the policy which excludes such colleges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9166/98]
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
789. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give favourable consideration to the inclusion of Portobello College, Dublin 6, in the list of approved institutions eligible for free college fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9455/98]
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin) Micheál Martin
Minister for Education and Science (Mr. Martin): I propose to answer Questions Nos. 752 and 789 together.
Under the free fees initiative, the State meets the tuition fees of eligible students who are attending full-time undergraduate courses, which must generally be of at least two years duration, at approved colleges. Over 37,000 students benefited under the initiative in 1996-97 at a cost to the Exchequer of some £77 million in 1997. Any extension of the initiative would have to be considered  in the light of overall resource constraints. In this regard, tax relief is available at the standard rate on fees paid to private colleges in accordance with the provisions contained in section 6 of the Finance Act, 1995 and section 15 of the Finance Act, 1996.
My priority is to increase the number of places available in publicly funded colleges. This priority was delivered on this year and will be again in the next academic year. I also draw the Deputies' attention to the legal proceedings which have been instituted in the case of Patrick Jordan Junior, Patrick Jordan Senior and Raymond Kearns v. the Minister for Education, Ireland and the Attorney General regarding the non-inclusion of Portobello College within the free fees initiative. As the matter will be before the courts, I do not consider it appropriate for me to make any further statement on the matter.
In relation to the question of including private colleges within the scope of the higher education grants scheme, the scheme operates under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992. An approved institution is defined to mean a university, university college or other institution of higher education in so far as it provides a course or courses of not less than two years' duration, being a course or courses which the Minister for Education and Science approves for the time being for the purposes of the Acts.
The annual higher education grants scheme which I approve sets out a list of approved institutions for the purposes of the scheme. The approved institutions mainly comprise the publicly funded third level institutions. However, there are a number of religious and other institutions that have been admitted to the scheme over the years. I am engaged in an ongoing review of all aspects of higher education grants including the eligibility rules and the administration of the scheme. In this regard, the scope of these schemes is being considered as part of an ongoing review of the existing arrangements. This review of the existing arrangements in relation to grants can only be considered in the light of available resources and in the context of competing demands within the education sector.
Dáil Éireann 489 Written Answers. Third Level Fees.