Dáil Éireann - Volume 516 - 09 March, 2000

Written Answers. - Third Level Fees.

57. Mr. McDowell asked the Minister for Education and Science when the feasibility study on the abolition of third level fees for some mature students will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7116/00]

Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): I am not aware of a feasibility study on [416] the abolition of third level fees for mature students being currently undertaken.

Under the free fees initiative, the State meets the tuition costs of eligible students, including mature students, who are attending full-time undergraduate courses, which must generally be of at least two years duration, at approved colleges. Students, including mature students, who are pursuing full-time postgraduate studies are eligible for maintenance and tuition fee grants under the higher education grants scheme.

The Review Committee on Post Secondary Education and Training Places, in its recent report, identified the need to increase provision for mature students and recommended that an additional stock of up to 10,000 places for mature students be built up over a period of years. The committee envisaged that these places would primarily be met by increased part-time provision and other flexible options such as distance learning. It recommended that detailed market research be undertaken to validate the demand for mature student places. The higher education authority has been asked to arrange for the recommended market research to be undertaken on mature student demand and to bring forward proposals in relation to meeting such demand.

I would also point out that the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, which has been negotiated between the Government and the social partners, provides for the establishment of a group, with appropriate social partner involvement, to examine and report on barriers to participation by mature students in higher education. The group, when established, will advise my Department on the development of a co-ordinated framework to promote access by mature and disadvantaged students to third level education, building on the experience of current initiatives.