Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 20 March, 2002
Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
814. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will arrange compensation for students attending third level college in the United Kingdom arising from currency fluctuations in order to maintain the real value of the grant assistance and to recognise the increasing cost of third level students at home and abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8958/02]
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): With effect from 1996, the student support schemes were extended to provide maintenance grants to undergraduate students pursuing approved third level courses in other EU member states. Prior to this grants were only payable to students who were pursuing approved courses in the Republic and Northern Ireland. In this context it was agreed that students pursuing approved courses in other EU member states, including in Northern Ireland, would be paid the value of the grants in the currency of the country in which they were studying and that the value of the maintenance grant to be paid in all circumstances would be the Irish value converted to the currency of the country in which the student is pursuing his or her course.
In December 1999, in response to a number of representations, local authorities and vocational education committees were advised that grant-holders should be given the option of having their grant paid either in Irish punts or in the currency of the country in which they are studying. This concession allowed students studying in Northern Ireland or the UK to receive their grants in Irish punts and, since January in euro, rather than sterling if they so wish.
My Department is satisfied that the current arrangements are equitable and efficient. While the exchange rate difficulties with sterling are appreciated, my Department is not in a position to supplement grant aid for students pursuing courses in the United Kingdom. Such an  approach could well give rise to anomalies and to claims of inequitable treatment between students studying in different countries.
Ms Clune Ms Clune
815. Ms Clune asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide details of grants available to mature students who wish to avail of a full-time course at a third level institution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8965/02]
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): My Department funds four maintenance grant schemes for third level and further education students which is administered by the local authorities and the vocational education committees. These are as follows: the higher education grants scheme; the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme; the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees; and the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses.
Generally speaking, students who are entering approved courses at undergraduate or postgraduate level for the first time are eligible for maintenance grants where they satisfy the relevant conditions as to age, residence, means and nationality.
For the purpose of the third level maintenance grant schemes, a mature student is defined as a person of not less than 23 years of age on 1 January in the year of entry to the third level institution.
Under the free fees initiative my Department meets the tuition fees of eligible students attending full-time undergraduate courses, which must generally be of at least two years duration.
Students studying at postgraduate level may apply for financial assistance under two of the maintenance grant schemes: the higher education grants scheme and the VEC scholarship scheme.
Maintenance grants are payable at either adjacent or non-adjacent rates. The adjacent rate of grant is payable where the grantholder's residence is 15 miles or less from the college being attended. The non-adjacent rate of grant is payable in all other cases. The adjacent and non-adjacent rate of grant for the current academic year is €2,390 and €956, respectively.
From 1999-2000, as part of a funding initiative at third level, the higher non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is paid to all eligible mature students, irrespective of distance from college.
I have introduced special rates of maintenance grant payable to disadvantaged grantholders with effect from the 2000-01 academic year. Recently I announced that the special rates of grant will be available to mature students, that is, students aged 23 and over, subject to specific conditions, from Easter.
I have given a commitment that the eligibility criteria for the special rates of maintenance grant will be reviewed with a view to extending eligibility. That review is now under way and a first step will be to assess the coverage and effective ness of the implementation of the special rates in its first year of operation. In this regard, I have already indicated that the scheme will be extended to ensure that additional, suitably qualifying mature students will benefit from the special rates of maintenance grant.
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 significantly increased the provision for this fund from €2.49 million, or £1.964 million, in respect of the 2000-01 academic year to €7.49 million, or £5.9 million, in respect of the 2001-02 academic year.
Dáil Éireann 550 Written Answers. Higher Education Grants.