Dáil Éireann - Volume 658 - 03 July, 2008

Written Answers. - Third Level Grants.

Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Education and Science the way he will address the fact that tens of thousands of young people are being priced out of higher education due to their parents’ income being only slightly above the threshold to qualify for grants. [26341/08]

  Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: The purpose of the student grant is to contribute towards the maintenance costs associated with going to college where parental means are likely to be insufficient to meet those costs. I’m sure that the Deputy will agree with me that income thresholds are necessary, therefore, to ensure that this support is properly targeted towards those who are most in need of this assistance.

The reckonable income limits for ordinary maintenance grants were increased by 3.5% for the 2007/2008 academic year. This increase was in line with the increase in the average industrial wage for the September 2005 to September 2006 reference period. The top limit for standard rate grant eligibility where there are less than four dependent children was increased from €46,700 to €48,355, aiming to ensure that more students from households with moderate incomes will not have to pay the Student Service Charge of €825.

I should also say that the prescribed income limit for the special rate of maintenance grant for the academic year 2007/2008 was increased by 7.8% to €18,055 in line with the relevant increases in social welfare payments.

In September 2003, my Department doubled the number of qualifying thresholds from two to four, allowing qualification for 100%, 75%, 50% and 25% rates of grant. This broadening of the income thresholds benefited an estimated 5,000 additional students. Some 37% of the student population at third level now qualifies for some level of student grant assistance. In addition, it must be remembered that over 90% of undergraduate students, at all income levels, avail of Government support for free fees at a cost to the Exchequer of €346 million in 2007.

I am committed to delivering ongoing improvements in my Department’s student maintenance grant schemes, including increasing the rates and income limits, as resources permit.

My Department, with the assistance of the National Access Office of the Higher Education Authority, monitors the trends in access to higher education for all socio-economic groups in order to address any inequities arising in the system. For example, the most recent data available indicate that the lowest levels of participation are now found within a socio-economic group called the “non-manual” group — 27% as against the national average of 55%.

The level of participation in higher education among this very diverse group is a complex issue that extends beyond financial barriers. A study, commissioned by the HEA, is currently being carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute on the participation in higher education of the non-manual socio-economic group. The key aim is to develop a better understanding of educational participation among young people from this group so that strategies can be developed which will support them in accessing and completing higher education.