Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Bill, 1992: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

All Members regret that existing mature students will not be eligible for grants and this cannot be over-emphasised. The Minister will be seen as being incapable of heeding the concerns and views of the majority of this House if he does not accept amendments on Committee Stage to ensure that existing mature students qualify for mature student grants.

I have some reservations about the method of means-testing mature students for grant eligibility. Those fears were compounded by a statement by the Minister that mature students who are dependent on their parents will be assessed by reference to their own income, if any, and that of their parents. Is the Minister implying that in assessing mature students for third level grant eligibility, their own income plus that of their parents will be taken for means-testing? This would be totally unjust. While this may not be intended, nevertheless the Minister implied it in the speech.

I wish to raise another query in this regard. I understand that the Bill refers to full-time mature students and one must ask how full-time mature students could have their own income. I am sure the majority of students who take the initiative and return, perhaps, to second level education in order to qualify for a place in third level education, will have to take career breaks or leave of absence from work. In all cases they would have to give up their full-time job in order to participate in full-time third level education. Therefore, one must question what is meant by "their own income".

I will also be seeking clarification on Committee Stage of what is meant by mature students dependent on their parents. Does that mean that an unemployed person is considered dependent on their parents or will they be assessed on their social welfare income? It would have to be in exceptional circumstances that one would determine a mature person — defined in the Bill as a person over 23 years of age — as dependent on his or her parents. They must fit into either of two categories, they must be employed or unemployed. If they are employed they have their own income and if they are unemployed, they are in receipt of social welfare payments. I look forward to clarification of that from the Minister.

Another important question that arises with regard to the means-testing of mature students' own income is whether the Minister intends assessing them on their income of the preceding or of the current year, which would make a vast difference with regard to their eligibility. For example, to date what has been assessed has always been the parents' income of the preceding year when assessing students' eligibility for third level grants. If the same assessment criteria are to be applied to mature students we must remember that many of them would have been in employment up to the time they will have taken up their place in college, which might mean they would be deemed to be ineligible for grant purposes. It would be my hope that the relevant year's income to be applied for this purpose would be that in which the student enters third level education.

Part-time mature students have been omitted from the provisions of this Bill. We must remember that family circumstances may not permit many people to return to third level education whole-time but will be forced to participate in part-time courses. There should be some financial support for such students. It is totally unfair that a mature student, who may have to retain his or her job, should have to incur the extra costs on resuming third level education. I hope there will be some provision incorporated on Committee Stage to provide for part-time mature students. We talk much about re-training and re-education. Again, I believe ways should be devised of helping part-time mature students to further themselves educationally.

This Bill is a step in the right direction but it is to be regretted that the Minister made the fatal mistake of excluding the existing 350 mature students. The plea of all Members that they be included should be listened to because their exclusion has spoiled an otherwise excellent Bill. As has been pointed out, the cost of their inclusion would be of the order of £1 million. In the interests of equity they should be included. This would entail one further step on the part of the Minister and would be much appreciated.

I, too, welcome this Bill which amends the 1968 and 1978 Acts. It is to be welcomed that under its provisions in future local authorities will be able to award grants to mature students. All Members have been complaining about and are aware of the anomalies that have obtained in the case of mature students seeking college places. I am glad to note also that its provisions will cover students who sit for their examinations outside the State. Henceforth, if they secure a college place they will be automatically eligible for consideration for these grants.

Like other Members, I am disappointed that the provisions of the Bill do not cater for present mature students. I hope the Minister can devise some method of rendering its provisions sufficiently flexible to include them, since all public representatives will have received representations from the Union of Students in Ireland and the Mature Students' Association in this regard. They clearly pointed out that when the European Social Fund grants were extended to mature students in January 1991, they applied to all students, present and future. Those two organisations feel it would not be unreasonable to have the same criteria apply to the local authorities' grants scheme in the case of mature students since there are only 350 involved. I hope this matter will be examined by the Minister and his Department.

In the past, one committee of Galway County Council, on which I had the honour to serve, was the higher education grants committee, of which there are only a few nationwide and may meet once or twice a year. I am no longer a member of Galway County Council but I should like to pay tribute to that committee with whose members I remain in contact. I should like to pay tribute in particular to their former staff officer, Mr. Tony Murphy, and their present staff officer, Mr. Tony Barrett, for their fine work. Thankfully, their submissions to the Department over the years have not always fallen on deaf ears. For example, their proposals for the indexation of grants, that is that they be in line with the current rate of inflation, were accepted by the Department in 1986. Another of their proposals relating to circumstances in which more than one family member was attending a third level institution has been acceded to by the Government under theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, a welcome announcement made earlier this year. The Galway committee also proposed the idea of a covenant, now part of the income tax regime.

I have always advocated that there be more information freely available about higher education grants. At various meetings of that committee I proposed the publication of a simple booklet by the Department of Education giving details of the different types of grants available, higher education grants payable through local authorities, European Social Fund grants and vocational education committee grants. There are corresponding booklets available on social welfare benefits. The Department of Health have published a booklet on health benefits and entitlements but, to my knowledge, none is available from the Department of Education. Indeed, I would advocate one body being responsible for the administration of higher education grants and vocational education committee scholarships. The present position is that on completion of second level education students are unsure whether they should apply to their local authority, the vocational education committee or if they should be considered for European Social Fund grants. This has been causing considerable confusion for quite some time past. While this legislation is welcome the Minister should first clear up the confusion that exists.

Another proposal related to income limits. The suggestion was that the level of grants should be based on net income rather than gross income. This is always mentioned in the context of PAYE workers but using net income as a base would give some idea of the profits of the self-employed. It is often said that all the self-employed get higher education grants for their children. I do not think that is true but if the income limits referred to net income rather than gross income the profits of the self-employed would be clear. It would, of course, help the PAYE workers because we all know that for the PAYE worker it is not the gross amount indicated on the pay check that is important but what he takes home. I know the Minister has just announced a very substantial increase in the income limits for higher education grants but I would nevertheless ask him to examine this proposal. Another proposal was that people investing in a savings scheme for education purposes should be allowed some tax relief on that investment.

I would also like the Minister to consider the question of students living just outside the 15 mile radius of the college. It is unfair that such students would not get a maintenance grant even though public transport might not be available to a family that has no other way of travelling to the college.

I welcome this Bill and the announcement made by the Minister concerning the increase in the income limits for higher education grants. The Minister said yesterday that under the new arrangement a family with anything from one to three children would qualify for full fee and full maintenance grants on an income of £15,000. That is a major increase on the present limit of £10,787. This same family will be eligible for a full fee grant with an income of up to £18,000 and a 50 per cent fee grant up to an income limit of £19,000. I have had many complaints about the scheme. I am glad to say that today, for the first time, I got a telephone call appreciating the fact that something was being done about income limits and I welcome that improvement.

There has been much concern about the ESF grants. I know the Minister was trying to ensure that there would be the same criteria for regional colleges as for the universities. He has, to some extent, succeeded in this, in that he has now introduced a fairly substantial increase in the income limits. However, it is important to point out that there was never any question but that the fee was to be paid anyway in the case of the regional colleges and it was only maintenance grants that were in question. I hope this will be just the start of looking at the whole question of eligibility for these third level grants.

I would like to pay tribute to the regional technical colleges because I feel that sometimes they do not get the credit they deserve. It is because of the great work the regional technical colleges are doing that there was such concern about the ESF grants. I attended a health board meeting in Castlebar yesterday and there was a very large lobby of people there strongly urging the Minister to set up a regional technical college in Castlebar. I heard the Minister say this morning that he has an open mind on the proposal. I hope that proposal will succeed because the regional technical colleges have provided a great range of subjects in the various colleges. In many instances they have difficulty in getting accommodation for the students because the numbers have increased so much over the years. This has been a feature of third level education and it is a major problem in Galway. It is therefore important that maintenance grants be increased.

I want to conclude by welcoming what has been announced here today. It is a small amendment to the Bill but it is very important to mature students and those who have got their qualifications outside the State. The whole question of the way we deal with third level grants will have to be examined, and the Minister has made a good start in the Bill and in announcing increased income limits.

Like all other contributors to this debate, I welcome the Bill. I agree with Deputy Kitt on the difficulty of getting all the information from the different sources about grants. Just when students have overcome the difficulties of the CAO and have decided what to do they have to look at the possibilities of applying for a grant and that is very difficult. It is incumbent on the Minister and the Department to bring forward some kind of booklet or information leaflet that will point parents and students in a particular direction.

Education is the area in which one sees the greatest inequality in Irish life. The students in universities and other higher education institutes tend to come almost entirely from the middle and higher income sections of society. There are great ghettoes of people not just in Dublin but all around the country who are not alone disadvantaged in many other areas but disadvantaged educationally because they have not had the opportunity of education that would take account of their abilities and their potential to achieve success and educational skills. Anything that can be done to equalise things is welcome.

Third level education can be very expensive. This scheme will bring into the educational fold people who have been disadvantaged. Very few people can afford to pay for their children's education. My three children received third level education, and I am glad to be able to say that my husband and I were lucky enough to be able to pay for it. I believe we should forego the idea of introducing free third level education until such time as the educational possibilities for everyone, especially people who are socially and financially disadvantaged, are brought up to par. Once this is done we can then set about dealing with this issue.

I welcome the introduction of the grant scheme for mature students. This scheme will make redundant the scheme I introduced some years ago when I was Minister. One has to be 23 years or over to be a mature student. I am very pleased no upper age limit is being set for mature students. This means that people of any age can apply for a grant to attend a third level educational institution. This scheme will open the flood-gates in terms of the number of women who apply for grants for third level education. I have to say that the scheme I introduced in the mid-eighties was totally sexist — it gave women grants for third level education. The amount of £50,000 allocated under that scheme was derisory. An extraordinary number of applications were submitted for grants under that scheme. I was amazed at the use which was made of it by women who had wanted to go to university all their lives but who had to leave school at 15 or 16, before they did their leaving certificate, and go out to work and perhaps later raise a family. Under this scheme their first year fees were paid for them. As well as going to college they took up jobs to pay for their fees the following year. A woman from Sligo who got first class honours in her examinations phoned me the day she got her results. She had travelled to Galway to pursue her course. These schemes give people who really want to attend college an opportunity to do so.

Many housewives who have come together in information and education groups have decided to do their leaving certificate so that they can get into university. These women will benefit under the scheme. I thank the Minister for introducing this scheme. Many young students take it for granted that it is possible to pursue a range of studies. I should like to point out that college was regarded as a luxury and rarity by my generation. I am glad to think that under this scheme people of 30, 40 and 50 years of age will be given a chance to attend university.

I should like to refer to eligibility for the scheme and a problem which I have come across more than once. This relates to mature students who want to go to college and who are dependent on their spouses, and students who have to make their applications through their parents. In the case of a separated couple where the children are living with the wife — these are the cases I have come across — the father's income is taken into account in assessing eligibility. Very often they will not give full details of their income for a number of reasons. This has caused difficulties for a number of students.

One student who phoned me was in tears and very distressed at the fact that the application was being turned down because her father would not co-operate properly and give the full details of his income. I intervened in this case and got in touch with the Department. The people with whom I spoke were extremely helpful and understanding and the problem was resolved. One can understand the difficulties involved for a young student, whose mother is on a limited income, trying to get into university. For example, they might have to exist on a deserted wife's maintenance allowance. Can the mother's income be taken into account in assessing eligibility? I should like the Minister to clarify that point.

I join with other speakers in making a very sincere appeal to the Minister to extend this scheme to mature students who are in college at present. As has been pointed out, there are only 350 mature students. The cost of extending the scheme to cover these students would be less than £1 million. I have received numerous telephone calls about this issue and also the letter sent to other public representatives. I appeal to the Minister to include this group of students in this scheme. They point out in their letter that their request is not without precedent and that when the ESF grant scheme was extended to mature students on 1 January 1991 it immediately applied to all students. Given that precedent, I ask the Minister to look favourably on this very deserving group and to include them in the scheme.

A booklet on the scheme should be published by the Department so that it can be readily available to parents and students and to public representatives who may wish to send it to their constituents. I ask the Minister to look at the position of students who live with their mothers who are on a limited income.

I welcome the introduction of the much broadened and enlightened higher education grant scheme. I represent a major urban area where there are many unemployment blackspots. It is very difficult for young people from these areas to gain a foothold in the jobs market. This scheme will enable many students from these areas to gain access to third level education. This is a positive step in the right direction.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister and the Government have taken this enlightened approach. In the medium and long term it will have a very beneficial effect on many communities which are finding it very difficult to gain access to the jobs market. Like Deputy Fennell, I am very impressed with the measure which provides access for mature students to third level education.

I would make one suggestion to the Minister. There should be recognition in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress that some form of financial support be made available to mature students at all levels of education. As a member of the board of Collinstown community college I found that courses were available for housewives who wished to improve their knowledge in such areas as home economics, and in other areas, but even though the level of fees was small many people could not afford to pay them because the head of the household was unemployed or there were large families to be provided for. Therefore these people were denied access to courses. Perhaps the Minister would consider, in consultation with the vocational education committees, taking action to improve this position.

I proposed that County Dublin vocational education committee put forward a proposal in this regard. The chairman highlighted the number of applications they had received for a range of courses, courses that would be of tremendous benefit to local communities, to parents who married very young, to people in overcrowded housing, those who resettled in the inner city and large communities whose only focal point is the community college. Courses could be provided for these people.

As regards the extension of access to third level colleges, in the age of advanced technology the more education and skills our young people can acquire the greater will be the opportunities in the jobs market. I am very pleased that a third level regional college is being provided in the Dublin South-West area of Tallaght. That college will accommodate in excess of 2,000 students. As the Minister said, there will be a substantial increase — in the region of 75,000 — in the number of people who will have access to third level education. This is the right direction in which to proceed. However, much more can be done in this regard.

In the new satellite towns of Clondalkin, Lucan and Blanchardstown, sites were reserved for third level facilities but the provision of additional third level spaces does not appear to be part of the Department's programme at present. This matter should be considered because there may not be sufficient places to accommodate the many students who will now have access to third level education. I trust that the Minister will draw up some contingency plan whereby if access is sought for more places than are available action will be taken to deal with the matter. As the Minister said this morning, it is very difficult to predict the take-up in this area. I suggest that the take-up in my constituency will be very high. Career guidance personnel in postprimary schools will probably play a key role in advising students who may benefit from third level education.

In my constituency the senior college in Ballyfermot has broadened the curriculum and availability of subjects, catering for a whole range of students who would not otherwise have availed of third level education. That is the sort of thinking that should be applied in these colleges. This scheme will be of particular benefit, in areas of high unemployment. A previous Minister for Education issued a circular on primary education and in a two month period I and other Members of this House addressed up to 10,000 parents at a series of meetings. The one subject in which people are very interested is education. It is the wish of every parent that their sons and daughters receive an education as good as if not better than they received themselves.

I welcome this decisive step forward. The Minister and Minister of State have struck the right nerve and have introduced this measure at the right time. Hopefully, the extension of access to third level education will help reduce unemployment. We continually hear about difficulties in terms of the unskilled workforce regaining a foothold in the jobs market. If we are to make major strides in the nineties and beyond and if our young people are to have the best opportunities we must broaden the education system. The best example is the so-called economic prosperity and development in Japan and the Pacific Basin where, by taking advantage of technology, they progressed dramatically. Obviously their educational system also advanced in a technical direction. The Culliton report favoured technical education. I sincerely hope that our third level institutions will cater for the demand of the nineties and that the necessary subjects, technical skills and courses, including essential languages, will be available.

Overall we are proceeding in the right direction. The Minister said that £1.3 billion is being spent on education but obviously that is still not enough. This is probably one of the areas of high cost effectiveness. I welcome the structure of grants which strikes a fair financial balance. I have no time for those who criticise the means test. Those who can afford to educate their children should not get an advantage because it would displace more of those who should get the benefit of financial support. In order to treat all our students equally we must give disadvantaged people financial support to give them more access to education.

I would ask the Minister to consider making financial support available for courses in the vocational education committee for mature students. This could benefit not only households where unemployment is the order of the day but also the communities in which they live.

I compliment the Minister of State who seems to be very busy, as he is on the floor of the House regularly in the interests of improving education facilities. I have no doubt that the fruits of this Bill will be there for many years to come.

Any legislation which increases access to education should be welcomed. A point which has already been made but on which repetition is justified relates to access of mature students already in the system to the benefit of these legislative proposals. The Minister said:

In fact this has always been the position since the scheme was first introduced in 1968 and is therefore in the nature of a general principle.

The Department of Education when put under some pressure years ago by me on the statutory basis of some of their regulations, introduced the glorious phrase "the principle of continuity" which one could translate into ordinary language as "if you have been getting away with it for years, you should be able to continue getting away with it". As the Minister spoke of a general principle in this case, might I, with the greatest humility, suggest to him that a far deeper general principle is the principle of equity or equality.

We need to think carefully about what happens when a mature student, let us say already in the system, hears details of the possibility of availing of education. Many mature students when they read theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress and when they made phone calls were given the clear impression that they were doing something that was being recommended and that they would be included when provision was being made for those returning to third level education. I have not the slightest doubt about that. Before this legislation was prepared and introduced I had meetings with the Minister for Education and with the Minister for Social Welfare about the situation that had arisen.

I have the greatest sympathy for mature students for a number of reasons. I was in my twenties when I went through third level education for the first time. Also, I have taught mature students. One must consider the great difficulties these students have in overcoming all sorts of pressure, in many cases abstracting themselves from the ranks of the unemployed and deciding to go into an atmosphere dominated by people very many younger than themselves and overcoming all of the psychlogical, personal, social, educational and even cultural difficulties in order to participate. They are now being told that because they acted on what they felt was a fair and honourable construction of what was in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress and of the information given to them verbally, they have in fact disqualified themselves from participation in the scheme. It is very important that we understand what is happening to those people. To raise expectations and then dash them is very much worse than to deny people the opportunity in the first place.

I would ask the Minister to respond generously to the welcome being given around this House to the legislation by agreeing to the amendment being proposed in relation to taking care of mature students within the existing system. It is an important point when one considers what has happened not only to those who were unemployed but also to many people who were in jobs which they felt had no future or were in jobs for which they had not an express vocation and who gave up those jobs and encountered costs so as to attend third level education. It is absolutely miserable that for a figure of £1 million, a figure which, incidentally I do not accept, such students would be excluded. If somebody made a commitment when the going was tougher and somebody else waited a year, there is no general principle under which the first person should be at an automatic economic advantagevis-à-vis over the second person. I cannot see how one could sustain that.

When the Department of Finance advise the Department of Education that catering for those already in the system would cost £1 million, they would want to put it in context. A sum of £1.6 billion is the figure given for education in the speech of the Minister of State today. This figure has for many years been almost exactly the same as the total cost of incentives given to Irish industry to create jobs. If one were to ask where are the jobs for the £1.6 billion of our annual costed industrial policy and where are the results of our £1.6 billion investment in education, the answer is that the second kind of human investment will go on repaying itself year after year and will repay itself into generations.

When people produce this figure for the total cost of education it is a dangerous sign. I do not attribute views to either the Minister or the Minister of State but a previous speaker referred to it. Among the most dangerous views on education I have ever read were the views in that volume dealing with education prepared by Wright and Tansey supporting the Culliton report, in which they suggested that one should have to justify educational expenditure in terms of the benefits not to the international trading economy but the domestic Irish economy. In arriving at that conclusion they departed from the principle that the thinking surrounding the Lynch report "Investment in Education" could not be sustained because of cost. I will not stray from the business we are discussing now, because we will have an opportunity to discuss the Green Paper in detail, but it is very important that that kind of thinking be knocked on the head. The training costs of industry belong to industry and training costs should not be pushed into the educational system to drive out educational values. We can debate most of that another day.

Let me return to another principle which is very important in relation to access to education. I welcome the opening up of greater access but there are a number of points that arise in relation to that. This year alone I know mature students who lacked the means to pay their examination fees. As a third level teacher of long standing I know of the changed nature of the Higher Education Authority's relationship with third level colleges which requires them to earn a proportion of their income from fees. Therefore, fees have to be increased. One might say that future grants will be adjusted to take account of the increase in fees. Some colleges waived the fees of one or two students but many others did not. The small hardship funds that exist in third level colleges are usually confined to students who have passed into the second or third year and all the demands for assistance cannot be met from these funds.

There are pressures on the institutions who are deprived of funding and the obvious way out is to make a once-off arrangement to cater for those already in the system and reward them for having the foresight to return to education before the detail was in place. It is quite monstrous to punish them for that. If students enrolled for a week they have disqualified themselves from benefiting under the new scheme because of the definition of "new applicant". This use of words is totally unsustainable.

I welcome the provisions that improve access to education. I am not taking from that. Third level education gains every time its population is extended by virtue of social class or age. The Clancy report, among others, pointed out the vast discrimination in relation to third level entry. I cannot remember the exact detail but the probability of a son or daughter of professional parents going to college was 12 times greater than that of parents in the manual occupations. Entry to college related not only to parental means but the proximity of third level institutions and the provision of a wide diversity of third level institutions such as regional technical colleges as well as universities. The regional technical colleges are of considerable assistance in that regard.

Students are now coming into a system that is overstretched. I defy the heads of third level institutions to tell me — and I would love to be proved wrong — what special arrangements they have made for mature students who wish to undertake a course at their college. I will share with the House my experience of teaching such people. In the first term they are usually very nervous that their basic memory and writing skills are not as good as those of younger students. However, after the first term this lack of confidence is usually conquered and they can pass out those who are very much younger than them because they can draw on the wonderful experiences, the dark as well as the bright experiences they have had.

In my view the composition of third level institutes which is rather artificial not only in terms of social class but in the age cohort, benefits enormously by having mature people as part of the university population. As we approach the end of the century I would like to think I lived in a society in which the heads of all the third level colleges would be photographed and filmed as they arrived at the Dáil, Seanad or the Taoiseach's office to make a case for having more mature students in their institutions. I would prefer that they would do something like this rather than speaking with such enthusiasm about our institutions becoming European. If they want to be truly European let them make a comparison with European colleges because in the equivalent institutions students are much older than the average student in Ireland and they are catered for.

This is very important but it has not been grasped sufficiently. It is suggested by some that one has exhausted all opportunities of participating in third level education if one has not succeeded in gaining a place at the age of 18 or 19, in other words if one has not got on the escalator at that age one has no right to do so. This is an appalling view and it has not disappeared.

In times gone by the professions were very happy to look on as they reproduced themselves with privilege within the system but we must remember they were forced to budge from that. They were quite happy to have large areas of professional training that excluded women. When I was at university the first woman enrolled to do engineering at University College Galway and, to her credit, she became a very distinguished graduate. There are many more people like her. The mature students are a very important wedge within the third level community. They are the forerunners of much wider participation in the future.

At present the library grants for the third level institutions are derisory and we cannot dispose of this by saying that this is a matter for the individual third level institutions. Indeed, they also have to cope with the embargo on filling posts. I note also that Members have a flair for congratulating their local third level institution — may their generosity forever continue — but I wish they would point out that many of the regional colleges of which they speak so glowingly have inferior eating facilities not to speak of practically non-existent reading facilities. One does not have to be around very long to see that.

When we talk about a widening of access to education, we are talking about making the process more democratic. Women also fall into the category of mature students. Many women may have got married and reared their children at a time when they were subject to a tyranny of ideological conviction that they should abandon anything else other than the very important role of child rearing. A common view was that woman had been created with several children hanging off every finger of each hand, but times have changed. People of my age group remember when women were driven from the public service. If woman want to go back to college and recover part of their right to develop and make a very valuable contribution to society, should we place obstacles in their way? I say this, while welcoming everything that is positive in the Bill, but there is an unanswerable case for amending section 5 to take account of the points that have been made.

I want to comment about the availability of information. Deputy Fennell spoke about the need for ease of access to information and that the information should be as accessible as possible. I do not criticise members of the Government but I find it hard at times not to believe there is an ideology called the "obstacle ideology" in existence. The definition of that ideology is that when one seeks to find out about something every conceivable obstacle is put in one's way. People are asked whether they satisfy this requirement and that requirement, where they live, whether they live alone and whether they are sure that they do not have a relative who is giving them a few pounds. Let us be clear, we live in a society that has 20 per cent unemployed but has localised areas of 55 to 75 per cent unemployment. If people in that mire of unemployment want to educate themselves they should be given every assistance to do so.

I shall give one example only of what I am talking about, lest people think that I am indulging in abstraction about the ideology of obstacles to which I have referred. Not so long ago I dealt with a social welfare case in which a woman's benefit had been discontinued because she and her husband were believed to sell minerals at GAA matches. The investigating person took out the full GAA calendar, including matches that would enjoy a very dedicated attendance of perhaps 16 spectators, multiplied the number of matches by a figure for estimated income and concluded that the woman should be disqualified from her benefit. When sitting across the table from that woman and observing her distressed state, resulting from such thinking, I said to myself, "That is what I mean by the ideology of placing obstacles in the way of self-improvement."

A response is required from the Minister to resolve the difficulty that arises in section 5 (1) and I hope he accepts the amendments tabled for that section. Those responsible for administering the scheme will face challenges in relation to making it simple and accessible; the institutions in which mature students work will face challenges and will have responsibilities. There will also be challenges and major tasks ahead for the professionals who work within third level institutions, people who themselves by and large come from a relatively narrow band in society. I make that comment very carefully. Those who work within our third level institutions are required to make an extra effort to welcome special people into third level education. I feel that that general tendency towards democratisation is often not found among my colleagues. I think that they are beating a path to the altar of neo-utilitarianism, suggesting regularly that they will be judged useful and looking for people to whom they might demonstrate their usefulness, when, as I might remind them, I was trained to be a teacher, they were trained to be teachers and they should be teachers. It is curious that within third level education as well, being a good teacher is the least qualification for advancement in one's profession. In terms of a society that has 20 per cent unemployed and when more people are coming from the otherwise excluded socio-economic groups — as the Minister's speech states — the ability of communication, the ability to be human, the ability to not try to trap students but to be in their favour, the ability to address their special difficulties, the ability to give them confidence at times of low confidence and the ability to be generous in providing time for special tutorials, are the real skills of a democratic society. Yet the Culliton report, in that particular supporting volume, turns to the third level institutions and tells them to make themselves amenable to industry, not to international industry but to local, £1.2 billion-supported Irish industry.

I ask a very serious question about local authority administration of grants. I have been a member of several local authorities at different times. Local authorities will point out that they were given responsibilities without the capacity to deliver. It is simply outrageous that students in different years have had to protest both outside and within local authority buildings while waiting for their grants. When local authority members hear the phrase "the money hasn't come down yet", do they realise that those applying for the grants cannot live on air and are being forced to take out loans and so forth? Again, it is very interesting to note the way in which our financial institutions have set up their competing camps in third level institutions, busily searching out and regarding students as special people when they have a grant to lodge but just that little bit less special when they do not have a grant to lodge.

I recognise the hand of the Department of Finance in one part of the Minister's speech. I am not a conspiracy theorist at all, but when I hear, "Total public expenditure on education in 1992 amounts to £1.6 billion, representing almost 20 per cent of total Government expenditure and almost 6 per cent of GDP" I am encouraged to send back a message to the financial people through the Minister of State: would they give the figure for the percentage of total Government expenditure on our failed industrial policy and its percentage of gross domestic product?

The Minister went on to talk about a substantial increase in allocations. No one is scoring points; the fact is that it will take time, unfortunately, to make a major impact on our unemployment problem while we follow present policies. If the market is to dictate, as so many people who disagree with me seem to accept, the provision of employment opportunities, would it not be a great deal more sensible to have educated people participating in that market rather than people who have been denied opportunity? We should also be very clear that while we in the House may, with different views, debate — with sincerity I think — problems such as unemployment there are many others who are abusing the level of unemployment by beating up the skill requirement for jobs and who also do not even bother to send adequate replies to the hordes of people who apply for limited vacancies. Those people should change their ways. The Minister stated that in 1992 third level education accounts for 22 per cent of expenditure compared to 8 per cent in 1966. So what? The figures given are proportionate.

I am not making a case for one kind of education expenditure as against another kind. In the unlikely event — which grows more unlikely — of my ever being Minister for Education I would have to agree that if we were to undo inequality in our society we would need to put massive resources into primary education, we would need to change the system to provide greater success and we would need to complete a change in the second level curriculum. However, that is not competing demand with third level education. The very best way to justify third level expenditure, if it is not to be a transfer to those who already have advantages, is by increasing the proportion of those within third level education who come in from age groups quite different from the usual secondary leaving age. It also means that the variety of third level opportunities should be expanded.

As this is my first chance for some time to speak on education I should like to say that it is time for those who believe in education to recover their nerve. There are such things in life as educational values, irrespective of whether or not there is economic growth. When the flimflam of the Culliton report is all over I should like to give consideration to the actual situation. I thought references to Japan were in decline, but the senior innovators in Europe and the US are coming from those who got good, basic training at third level. An example is people who are the major world leaders in electronics, biotechnology and other areas; in the case of electronics many of them attained good engineering degrees and went on to specialise. The recipe for early specialisation and narrowing of training is one for obsolescence and disaster. Contrary to everything in the Culliton report, the average person will finish third level and will change vocation three or four times as often as the person of ten years ago. The person rendered unemployed will have to change direction in training. The better and stronger the basic education is the better a person can deal with this. That is what I meant when I said I hoped the educational community will recover their nerve in asserting educational values. I hope also they will be innovative, not, in a sense, to narrow themselves to appear attractive to the whim of a passing phase of rather regressive eighteenth century economic theory, but that they will say it is wonderful that more and more of our people are developing intellectual curiosity, critical capacity, democratic ability to participate and so on.

Because they are not often given credit, let me say that in this instance the Irish Mature Students Association appear to make a case that is not only moderate but modest, asking only to be treated equally in the autumn when it could be argued that for the period they have been within the system they have carried a burden that others will not carry in the future. The Union of Students in Ireland, often criticised but to whom I want to pay tribute, in my term as spokesman on education in years gone by were front runners in the case for the democratisation of education in terms of internal structures but also in terms of access.

The more people participating in education of all kinds with as few artificial barriers as possible the better. For arguments sake, let us accept the Government's figure of £1 million. Is it worth it for somewhere between £0.75 million and £1 million in a once off payment, a once off cost, to dash the expectations of those who simply took what was published as a contract between the Government and the social partners, theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, for what it was, acted on trust and listened to advice and information given by different Departments of State and overcame so many difficulties? In what is basically good and welcome legislation the Minister should remove this blotch and amend section 5 (1).

As a member of a local authority who will administer the education grants scheme on behalf of the Department I welcome any improvement initiated through additional legislation, particularly relating to mature students. However, I echo the sentiment of my colleague, Deputy Higgins, that those of us who were involved in assisting people to qualify for these grants accepted a commitment in theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, that existing mature students would qualify for education grants. Unfortunately, this Bill does not honour that commitment which mature students consider to be a contract between them and the Government.

If we follow the principle of equality we try to treat all people equally, though at times women had difficulty in achieving such equality. In regard to students and education all Governments, past and present, have tried to operate a scheme which would give equity in the allocation of assistance and grants and every incentive for people to go to school and continue into higher education. They recognised that this would help them improve their employment opportunities in an area that is becoming so competitive. Expectations and requirements are so high that it is difficult for people with the highest qualifications to get work at times, particularly in their own country.

While this legislation extends, for the first time, permission to local authorities to operate a scheme of education grants for mature students, we must not lose sight of the commitment given to existing mature students.

We look forward to comments from both sides of the House and to the Minister's reply which we hope will be positive. He will have an opportunity between now and Committee Stage to look at the complaint we all have, that existing students are omitted from the scheme. Those students have taken the initiative to return to education and that is not easy for adults or mature people.

I have been approached by people already in colleges who had hoped to be included in the scheme. I am processing applications from students who have been fortunate enough to achieve a place in college, and I take it that they will be assured of a grant irrespective of their academic achievements in the past. I ask the Minister to respond to our queries.

When we talk about the cost of this possible extension we are talking about a small sum of money. I accept that from now all mature students will be covered by the legislation. For that we are grateful. It is an imaginative improvement on the existing scale of education grants.

Other criticisms have been made about the operation of the grants scheme. One refers to the means test which, unfortunately, was linked with a decision of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Davern, in the short period he was Minister for Education, that for the first time ESF grants would be subject to means-testing. There is widespread concern at this proposal. To sweeten the pill, so to speak, it was linked with the improved guidelines laid down for incomes in this legislation and this year's scheme.

Deputy Higgins mentioned categories of people who will be excluded such as engineers, who would be considered to have relatively good jobs, and people in the middle income group. Lorry drivers who work with co-operatives are required under their conditions of employment to work overtime. They have been penalised in the past under such schemes. Many lorry drivers or other overtime earners have been precluded from any grant assistance to educate their children. We should be trying to help those categories. Other Departments, imaginatively, have excluded overtime earnings from means-testing. Ministers for the Environment and Local Government excluded such earnings from rent determination.

There are precedents where overtime earnings could have — and should have — been excluded because often overtime is not optional for employees and occasionally they are required, because their work is of a sensitive or seasonal nature, to work long hours. As a result their P60s will show large amounts because of their workload. Account should be taken off the amount of time they have to work to get this income. The time they spend away from their families should also be taken into account in assessing the eligibility of people who exceed the amounts laid down in the guidelines.

I welcome the increases in the guidelines which, unfortunately, were linked to the possible means-testing of ESF grants. Having taken those criticisms into account, there is now a widespread fear, particularly in the countryside, that irrespective of what grants are given, unless they take into account the cost of being at college and of being in digs or other accommodation, we will, by legislation, preclude many parents from the opportunity of sending a very good student away to third level education. This would be against all the trends of what we are trying to do in this House, which is to assist people in every way possible to avail of the maximum amount of education and qualifications.

During his period in office, the Minister will have to look at the level of grants. The limits of incomes required is one problem and they should be continually monitored. The amount of grants paid is paltry when the costs involved are taken into account. This relates particularly to sending students away from home to which they are unable to return at night, which happens in many areas where third level education is not readily available close to people's homes. We must take into account the necessity nowadays — and which will be even more evident in the future — for everybody to be as well qualified as possible and to remain in school for as long as possible in the hope that they will have every opportunity in the future. There will be far more competition in the future but students should be able to look to it confident in their ability to get a job, preferably in their own home town or at least in their own country.

It is a tragedy that a small island nation on the periphery of Europe has to depend on mainland Europe where language has been a barrier to some of our students gaining useful employment. This has happened to teachers and other highly educated people and they finish up driving buses in London and other cities because of the lack of opportunities open to them. In the past, those who qualified in agricultural science found that there were no openings here because of the attitude of the Department to the advisory service Teagasc and the lack of demand or need for education at that level, which is a tragedy.

The Minister for Labour spoke about the possibility of social employment schemes in Holland and in other parts of Europe. He said that as we are Europeans we should not have a problem working in Europe. However, in the past our educational system did not take account of the need for additional or alternative languages. We are probably the least well-equipped compared to other countries in Europe as far as learning foreign languages is concerned. This must put our students at a tremendous disadvantage when they go to work in Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy or anywhere else. Irrespective of how good their English or Irish may be, the opportunities for getting work suitable to their qualifications will become less and less if we do not ensure that our educational curriculum includes foreign languages. That is why, unfortunately, in the past many of our peoples had to emigrate to English speaking countries like America, Australia and New Zealand where at least they could speak the language.

Yesterday, my council in Tipperary adopted this scheme without knowledge of its terms because they felt that they would be required to operate it. Even without knowing the details, the council were unanimous in adopting it with goodwill and in good faith. Unfortunately, many people will be disappointed unless changes are made; I know that previous speakers in this debate advocated changes. I do not know whether the Minister has been listening to people in his own constituency or the Department who, I am sure, have been professionally lobbied by students', parents' and teachers' organisations, all those involved in the educational process. They will have made the strongest possible representations to the Minister and the Government to ensure that this legislation will be as liberal as possible and will cover as many pupils as possible. It should also ensure that as many families as possible will have an opportunity to benefit from progressive legislation which we generally welcome. I am sure the Minister is capable of applying imagination to his brief which would ensure that the Bill is progressive and would balance in some way the bad vibes resulting from the promise — or threat — to means test ESF grants, which were of tremendous benefit to people who were excluded from the existing local authority higher education grants operated by county councils or the vocational education committees.

I commend the Bill and I hope the Minister's response will be positive in regard to the areas about which we have expressed concern. It will be the duty and function of members of local authorities to try to assist people in every possible way to qualify under the terms laid down. I hope the Minister will take heed of our pleadings in this regard.

Thank you very much, a Chathaoirligh, for giving me this opportunity to raise one point in respect of this Bill. I do not profess to have any expertise in relation to this Bill which is long overdue but I welcome its general thrust. I hope it will provide an opportunity for people who missed out in the orthodox fashion of being able or free to participate in third level education to have a second chance having regard to their financial means. They will now get badly overdue support from the State to pursue a third level education opportunity. I intervene in the debate merely to raise the point which has been adverted to by several colleagues here throughout the course of Second Stage debate and on which my own party's Education spokesperson, Deputy Gilmore, has put down a specific amendment, as I suspect is the case in relation to other Opposition parties in the House, which relates to the question of the provision for mature students currently in the stream. It is a shame that we have to spoil the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar, which is effectively what is happening here.

I understand, from correspondence I received from the Union of Students in Ireland that a survey was conducted to establish precisely the extent of this anomaly and, roughly, what would be the order of costs involved to the State. According to that survey conducted by the Irish Mature Students Association it would appear that of 1,200 students currently in college, only 350 would actually be eligible for funding. That figure represents a very small number of students who were led to have a certain expectation in respect of this because, for example, the Union of Students in Ireland draw attention to the fact that many of those mature students in the current academic year returned to college as a result of guarantees which they inferred from theProgramme for Economic and Social Progress, published in January 1991. Certainly those students held the view that grants for mature students would be introduced and that the term “mature students” in this particular case would mean not only students about to enter college but students already in college.

It is niggardly and mean of the Government to single out a group of students who have demonstrated commendable personal initiative, often in far more difficult circumstances than for those who are the subject of the orthodox intake into our third level colleges. They have striven against what appeared to be insuperable obstacles in many cases to be accepted for their respective courses and have pursued them diligently only to find their expectations shattered, not because the Government have reneged on the commitment to bring forward the Bill, but because they refuse to include a small number of existing students. Again, I am grateful to my old union, the Union of Students in Ireland, for pointing out that what we request is not without precedent. Apparently when the ESF grants, for example, were extended to mature students, they were paid irrespective of whether one was a prospective student or a student already in the course of one's studies. I avail of this unexpected opportunity to plead with the Minister to acknowledge the request that has come from all sides of the House to extend to existing students who otherwise meet the eligibility requirements the welcome terms of this Bill.

I very much welcome the Bill in its general thrust and unashamedly say that the points I am raising are as a result of specific cases brought to my attention. In my constituency there are a number of students who, for some reason that I am now too far removed from education to know the whys and wherefores of, happen to be attending Maynooth College. In the case of some of those students, their continuation is likely to be put at risk if they are included in this Bill. I am aware of the difficult personal circumstances that they overcame to get into college initially and I know they genuinely believed and expected that the bringing forward of this Bill would at least enable them to see their course through. It would be a tragedy if some of these people were denied the opportunity to continue in third level education. If some of them are forced back on to the dole queues that will be a greater burden on the State than the extension of the terms of this Bill to people currently in course, and a burden without any prospect of an investment return to the State as a result of assisting these people to continue in college.

I sincerely request that the Minister take on board the views expressed by several Deputies since the debate began, because equity is involved. It is an important issue having regard to the fact that the scheme, as it exists, is operated and in a particularly inequitable manner for the many people who fall into the category my constituents are in. Because of other preoccupations this week I have had no opportunity to examine the improvements announced by the Minister for Education in the higher education grants scheme. He would seem to have got a favourable response from the media for them but there is nothing new in that. The Minister for Education has long been an expert at getting favourable responses from the media for whatever he does but looking at it more closely, one finds it does not necessarily amount to a great deal. If the Minister only drops his children off at school, there is somebody there from theIrish Independent or somewhere else to photograph him doing it. Therefore, I would need to have time to study whether the improvements in the scheme he announced this week are all they are cracked up to be. I can certainly say that prior to any improvement by the Minister, the operation of the scheme was very discriminatory as between certain categories within the self-employed and the PAYE sectors. Frequently at this time of the year one has representations from people on average industrial earnings who are making extraordinary sacrifices to give their teenagers access to third level education which, in many cases, they themselves would not have had and who find that when they look at the nitty gritty of the scheme, they are not eligible.

The calculation of means is totally unfair to the PAYE sector. For example, for large farmers it operates in a totally different manner. All of us know of cases where farmers have found it more economic to purchase accommodation in this city for their prospective sons and daughters to go to a university of their choice and find to one's alarm that they are being supported by the State to do so, whereas people struggling on average industrial earnings and paying their tax every week are unable to get any assistance towards putting their children through college. That is grossly inequitable. Unlike Deputies such as Deputy Jim Higgins, I have had no opportunity to look at this in detail but I will be doing so. On the narrow issue of this Bill it is regrettable if the Minister feels that he is not in a position to make a gesture towards the united voice coming from this side of the House concerning people who through their own efforts have found themselves in college, and who should be assisted in the same fashion as is proposed for eligible mature students in the future.

First, I wish to thank all of the Deputies who have contributed to the debate on this Bill. I am pleased that there was generally a warm welcome for its provisions and a recognition that the special extension of the higher education grants scheme to mature students represents another important step forward in the development of student support schemes in third level education. That, combined with the announcement yesterday of the very substantial increases in the grants scheme, as well as the many improvements in the scheme which have been announced over the last few weeks, and the publication of the Green Paper on Education, represents very significant progress in the whole area of education which many Deputies and many interested groups have been requesting for so long. It represents the continuing commitment of this Government to education.

A number of issues have been raised by Deputies on all sides, including the element of non-retrospection in relation to the improvements. I have the greatest sympathy with the points put forward but due to constraints on Exchequer resources it has only been possible in years when there has been an improvement in the qualifying conditions for grants under the higher education grants scheme to introduce and fund the improvements for the scheme in the year in question.

A number of costings ranging from £750,000 to £1.5 million have been mentioned in relation to applying the 1992 improvements to mature students already attending third level courses. My information is that the figure would be far higher. The number of mature students attending third level courses is estimated at 1,600. This contrasts with a figure of 350 mentioned by some Deputies, on which I presume the costings referred to were based. These costings would appear to be quite conservative. The actual cost of applying the improvements retrospectively to this group would be substantially higher.

Deputy Fennell referred to the fact that she introduced a special scheme some years ago. Because of the huge response, it cost quite an amount of money. This indicates that there will be a huge take-up in this scheme in the new academic year, at a further substantial cost. A more fundamental consideration is that it would be difficult to defend retrospection for the mature student group without extending it to the general body of students already at third level. This would involve huge additional costs, running into millions. This would not be sustainable in the current economic climate. The improvements announced by the Minister for 1992 will apply to entrants to third level in 1992 and subsequent years and will not apply to students already attending third level courses.

Deputy Rabbitte referred to a precedent, namely the extension of the ESF grants. That was quite different. The extension of ESF grants when first introduced to students already in third level colleges must be seen in the context of the provision of funding from the European Community and the need to draw down on entitlements under the Structural Funds at the time. The Deputy was not comparing like with like.

Deputy O'Shea indicated that ESF means-testing displayed a desire by the Department of Education to move students towards the university sector. Nothing could be further from the truth. This can be borne out if one examines the phenomenal growth in the vocational education colleges sector and the role of these colleges in catering for third level educational needs. In the period since 1980, whole-time student numbers in the regional technical colleges have increased from 6,500 to almost 20,000, an increase of over 200 per cent. In the same period attendances at the colleges of the Dublin Institute of Technology has risen from 4,000 to 8,000 students. The vocational education committee third level colleges have over 28,000 whole-time students, which represents almost 40 per cent of total enrolment at third level.

Several speakers referred to the fact that eligibility for third level support is determined on the basis of an individual's gross income. They urged that eligibility should be determined on the basis of net income. In reviewing the eligibility limit under the scheme of student support, regard was had to the fact that the present limits are based on gross income. The substantial increases announced yesterday were determined in that light. To move to a system of assessment on the basis of net income would have serious implications for the income limits to be set. I am sure Deputies appreciate that the limits to be applied, whether on a gross or net income basis, must have regard to the resource implications. At the end of the day the same amount will be made available for third level grants. If we change from gross to net assessment, something else would also have to be changed because only the same amount of money is available.

It does not operate equally for the self-employed and PAYE people.

This could be examined further in the autumn in the context of the debate on the Green Paper. Deputy O'Shea raised the issue of the treatment of drawings in assessing applications for third level student support. Assessment for eligibility for third level student support is on the basis of income. Drawings from a business do not represent income. The individual draws upon his or her assets, thereby reducing his or her capital base in the same way that any individual might draw upon savings in a bank account. Neither is assessable as income. This approach is consistent with the practice of the Revenue Commissioners as drawings from a savings account or from one's assets are not assessable for income tax.

It is not a problem for a lot of my constituents.

The point was made that different attitudes are taken by different local authorities. I will have that matter investigated by my Department and I will report back.

Questions were also asked about the status of the third level scheme for the long term unemployed. The option of pursuing a full-time education course at third level is available to unemployed people who are on the long term rate of unemployment assistance and aged 23 years or over. Priority is given to people who have already taken part in the vocational training opportunities scheme or second level education initiatives. Older people who have been unemployed for some time and who are mainly dependent on unemployment payments are also given priority. The courses covered under the scheme must be full-time undergraduate courses at third level or be run by an approved institution such as a university, a regional technical college or a college of the Dublin Institute of Technology. In general the course should have a high skill content but more academic courses are also involved. Participants in the scheme continue to receive the same social welfare rates and entitlements as they would otherwise receive. Arrangements are made to dispense with the requirement for the scheme participants to sign in. There are 186 participants at present and 100 additional places will be available in the autumn. Present plans are for the scheme to continue.

It was also claimed that grant levels were not being increased in 1992. This is totally untrue. The maintenance grant will be increased in line with the increase in the consumer price index and the tuition fee grant will be increased in line with the increase in third level fees. That improvement was announced some time ago. All these provisions are a further indication of this Government's commitment to develop, as far as resources allow, all possible educational opportunities for all sectors.

Deputies have referred to the importance of continuing second chance education and I share their views in this regard. The provisions in this Bill will enable further progress to be made towards enabling mature students who may not have had the opportunity to pursue courses of their choice at a particular time in their lives to embark on a fulfilling and enhancing programme of education in a third level institution. Deputy Higgins, and others, referred to the difficulty in obtaining information from the Department and put forward the proposal that a simplified booklet should be produced. I promise to take that suggestion on board. It is a good idea, it is simple and it would help people.

As a member of a higher education grants committee for 18 years I was often frustrated when I saw who had been awarded grants each September or October. I tried over a long number of years by way of resolution at that committee to have the whole system fully investigated. I am glad we have gone part of the way but much more remains to be done. There will be an opportunity for Members when debating the Green Paper on Education to ensure that the most equitable system possible is put in place. Deputy Higgins expanded on that point also when he spoke of the need for a proper policy in education to tackle the problems within the system. I agree that the debate on that document in the autumn will be the appropriate time to expand that point. I hope we will continue to bring equity into the system because I believe, as I am sure do most Members, that no system should be operated unless it is seen to be fair and gives a fair opportunity to everybody.

The Minister of State, Deputy Aylward, in his reply made no reference to an amendment to section 5 (1) and, in that event, we will not oppose Second Stage but will insist on a vote to amendments to that provision.

On a point of order, the amendments in question have been ruled out of order.

We will be entitled, even if the amendments have been ruled out of order, to oppose the section.

We can vote against the section rather than the Bill.

Question put and agree to.