Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 28 February, 2002

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

  188. Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if higher education grant aid is available to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7305/02]

  Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): My Department funds three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions. These are the higher education grants scheme, the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees.

  The statutory framework for the higher education grants schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, [208] 1968 to 1992. It is the local authorities which, on behalf of my Department, administer the schemes, which are reviewed annually by my Department. The vocational education committees' scholarship scheme and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees. All three schemes have broadly similar provisions relating, for example, to age, residency and means, which govern the award of a grant.

  It is the relevant local authority or VEC to which application for a grant must be made. Decisions on applications are taken by these bodies based on the terms of the schemes which issue from my Department. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except in exceptional cases, for example, where advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. To date it appears that no such advice or instruction has been sought in the case of the student referred to by the Deputy.

  If an applicant considers that s/he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, s/he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC.

  Where an applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department.

  It is not open to me or my Department to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.

  Until such time as an application has been decided on by the relevant local authority or VEC, all inquiries regarding an application should be directed to the body concerned rather than to my Department.

  Apart from the maintenance grants schemes and the free fees initiative, under which my Department meets the cost of tuition fees for eligible undergraduate students in approved institutions, financial support is also available to students, in approved third level institutions, through the student assistance/access fund. The objectives of the fund, which is ESF-aided, are to assist students in a sensitive and compassionate manner who might otherwise, due to their financial circumstances, be unable to continue their third level studies.

  The fund is administered on a discretionary and confidential basis by each third level institution. It provides direct financial support to disadvantaged students to assist them to remain in college. I increased significantly the provision for this fund from €2.49 million or £1.964 million in respect of the 2000/01 academic year to €7.49 [209] million or £5.9 million in respect of the 2001-02 academic year.