I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important issue on the Adjournment. Although the matter I wish to discuss is crucial to a minority of students if it is allowed to remain unaltered it will bring disappointment and frustration to a growing number of students.
Some months ago a girl working in a bank in County Cavan applied for a mature student's grant to enable her to undertake a degree course at University College, Cork. To her delight she satisfied all the criteria and was awarded a grant under the higher education grants scheme for mature students. As the bank refused her application for a career break to enable her undertake her studies she resigned her position. To her consternation, and my amazement. she was subsequently told that she would qualify for a maintenace grant at the adjacent rate of £592 per annum only rather than the full rate of £1,486 per annum. As the Minister will be aware, the adjacent rate is payable to students living within 15 miles of the educational institution which the student is attending.
Cavan is definitely not within 15 miles of Cork but in interpreting clause 8 of the regulations relating to higher education grants a county council official decided that since this young lady would not be retaining her flat in Cavan for the duration of her studies, she would cease to be a permanent resident of County Cavan and hence would transfer the permanent address to Cork. She would, therefore, be living within 15 miles of UCC and was only entitled to the lower rate. The decision of Cavan County Council has been endorsed by the Department of Education and by the Minister.
The idea of mature student grants was introduced by my constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Rourke. I have no doubt that she would vehemently object to this interpretation of the regulations. Most local authorities would be opposed to this decision and many interpret the regulations in a different fashion. This goes against the spirit of the scheme and will cause untold financial difficulty for mature students. The Minister is telling the student that she must maintain and pay for an empty flat in County Cavan to qualify for the full maintenance grant. If she can afford to do this then she does not need a grant. The Minister expects her to spend a year in college on a grant of £592 or perhaps she is expecting her to cycle daily to and from Cork with her jeans tucked into her socks.
Is the Minister for Education commited to the disadvantaged and to those who want to better themselves? If she cannot understand the ridiculous situation imposed on this student by bureaucracy gone mad, she does not understand the spirit in which the scheme was introduced or the difficulties facing mature students. I hope the Minister, will take the sensible reading of the regulations and allow this girl the full grant.