Dáil Éireann - Volume 520 - 08 June, 2000

Other Questions. - Higher Education Grants.

11. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of meetings between his Department and the Department of Social, Family and Community Affairs in the past six months on the proposal for a central grant giving authority for higher education grants; and when it is proposed to reach a decision in this regard. [16153/00]

Dr. Woods: My officials have been engaged, with officials of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, in relation to options for the future administration of the various student support schemes. There is provision within the national development plan for a third level access fund which will, inter alia, provide for additional financial support for disadvantaged students in addition to the existing maintenance grants schemes. I am developing proposals in relation to these financial supports and I will be considering the administrative arrangements in this context.

While no formal meetings have been held between officials of the two Departments over the past six months, my officials plan to have further discussions with officials from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs when proposals within my Department in relation to the third level access fund are developed. In this general context, amendments to the schemes in recent years have sought to address anomalies and promote uniformity across the schemes.

The Deputy will also appreciate that there are major implications, for example, for the local authorities and vocational education committees, in any proposals to change the administration of the schemes. It is my intention, therefore, that there will be full consultation with all interested parties and I have previously indicated that no irrevocable decisions will be taken in regard to any future arrangements prior to such consultation taking place.

Given the complexity of the issues involved and the need to consult all interested parties, I am of the view that it would be inappropriate to fix a rigid deadline for taking decisions on the matter.

Mr. R. Bruton: Reading between the lines, does the Minister's reply mean that a central [1257] grant giving authority is now dead in the water? No meetings have been held over a six month period and, as the Minister acknowledged, there is no rigid time frame.

This proposal was a pet issue of the Minister's predecessor who portrayed it as being an active brief. Perhaps the Minister will confirm whether the matter has now been laid to rest or whether he sees merit in a central grant giving authority, an idea widely supported by many of the student bodies.

Dr. Woods: Yes, I do see merit in the idea but there is a need for consultation with the various parties involved as the proposal would require work being transferred from one group to another.

Mr. R. Bruton: Consultation on the matter does not appear to be overly active.

Dr. Woods: Difficulties have arisen because of the introduction of so many innovations and new courses by this Government and by the previous Government towards the end of its terms of office, such as a further support scheme for post-leaving certificate students in the academic year 1998-9; changes in personnel in the higher education area; the need for computer staff on the Y2K project, which comprised a large part of the work of the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs until January this year; and the introduction of the euro. Further meetings on this issue are planned. The Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs wants my Department to rationalise the new schemes and get them in order before handing over responsibility for them.