Dáil Éireann - Volume 597 - 08 February, 2005

Written Answers - Student Support Schemes.

  473. Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 1120 of 26 January 2005 (details supplied), the location in the guidelines for the scheme of a requirement on third level institutions to assess the extent of demand based on student numbers, the need for rented accommodation, existing supply issues and related factors; the reason there are no guidelines setting out the criteria for carrying out such assessment if it was intended that third level institutions be required to assess the supply and demand, which presumably would also deal with adequacy, standard and price of existing and proposed accommodation in the catchment area; the way in which she has ensured that a consistent, fair and transparent approach has been adopted by all third level institutions in the assessment, particularly those which have a commercial interest as accommodation providers in the market in view of the fact that there are no guidelines setting out the assessment criteria; the stage at which a third level institution should decide to intervene in the market and control the amount of competition in view of the fact that the market, based on price and quality, normally regulates the balance between supply and demand and encourages healthy competition, which is in the interests of students; her views on the obvious conflict of interest that exists when a third level institution is both a provider and regu[583] lator; the way in which the implementation of this scheme is being monitored in order to ensure it is achieving its objectives in all areas as similar tax incentive schemes are very transparently monitored by the local authorities; and if that all current proposals will be certified by third level institutions pending revised guidelines being drafted and proper need assessments being undertaken in view of the obvious serious deficiencies in the existing guidelines. [3481/05]

  Ms Hanafin: The student accommodation tax incentive scheme is designed to address difficulties in the student accommodation market. Accordingly, the primary focus of the scheme is student welfare by providing an adequate supply of rented accommodation through a tax designated scheme. The guidelines that underpin the scheme require third level institutions to approve of development plans. In paragraph 4 of the guidelines, the rationale for this certification is explained as being in the interest of orderly development. It is appropriate that third level institutions should be quite rigorous in assessing need in order to prevent an oversupply situation. An oversupplied market, partly funded through a tax designated scheme, would certainly not serve the interest of taxpayers or indeed developers.

Third level institutions must work to promote the best interest and welfare of students and the role bestowed on them under the section 50 tax scheme, and the rationale for that role, is consistent with that objective. Their participatory role in providing accommodation is not incongruous with their function of safeguarding and promoting the best interest of students.

Clearly, any inference of non-adherence to these core principles would be a cause of disquiet. Accordingly, any evidence of non-compliance with the guidelines or alleged irregularity should be brought to the attention of my Department.