I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue. An innocent engineering student is being tragically victimised by a bureaucratic rules change in 1993 which took no heed of the hardship and educational deprivation is imposed. This student, whom the Minister knows, did the leaving certificate examination in 1992. He did not achieve the necessary two Cs, or honours, to qualify for higher education grants. He sat an entrance exam in UCG for admission to the engineering faculty and was granted a place in an engineering course which commenced in October 1992.
Because of the financial circumstances at home, he inquired from the higher education grants official of Galway County Council as to what he could do. He was advised that he could accept the place in the UCG engineering course, commence his studies there and at the same time repeat some subjects in the leaving certificate examinations in 1993. He was advised that if he obtained the required two Cs he could qualify for higher education grants for the academic year 1993-94. His father also contacted the Department of Education and received the same advice from the Minister for Education.
In her letter the Minister states:
I note that "K" intends to repeat four subjects in his leaving certificate 1993. If he secures the educational requirements in 1993 he should get in touch with Galway County Council in order that his eligibility for a grant may be examined under the 1993 scheme.
That is an extract from a letter signed by the Minister for Education, Deputy Bhreathnach, on 6 May 1993.
This student passed his first engineering examination and then sat the leaving certificate in the summer of 1993. He did four subjects achieving excellent results in his leaving certificate, one B and three Cs. He now had more than required to qualify for higher education grants. The leaving certificate results were notified to Galway County Council who paid him part of the higher education grant during the academic year 1993-94. However, he subsequently received word from the Department of Education that the grants were paid in error. The Department of Education's explanation was that although this student now complied with the terms of the higher education grants scheme as it applied up to 1992, the Minister, Deputy Bhreathnach, had altered the scheme. The terms of the new scheme precluded an award where the student "was not entering an approved course for the first time". In other words, if the student had not commenced his engineering studies in 1992, he would have qualified for full higher education grants in 1993.
This young man had made a superhuman effort. He studied into the early hours of the morning, gave up his free time and his sports pursuits to study for two difficult examinations in 1993 to qualify for these grants so that he could get the university education for which his parents could not afford to pay, bearing in mind that the fees for engineering at University College Galway are £2,300 per annum. All efforts to get the Minister to take an initiative in this case has failed so far. His parents have gone into debt to help him stay on in college. He should now be in his fourth and final year but, because of the Minister's disinterest and his parents' dire financial straits, he has had to abandon his university career and sign on for the dole.
I find the circumstances in this case quite appalling. The Minister acted in a callous, hard-hearted fashion. She is denying every precept of the socialist doctrine she publicly espouses. The Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Higgins, and the Minister for Education Deputy Bhreathnach, all professing an interest in the unemployed, the disadvantaged and the poor in our society, stood idly by while this young man's education and future career withered and died because of the ill thought out, careless and callous alteration to the higher education grants scheme introduced by this Minister.
In raising this matter, I appeal to the Minister and her colleagues in Government to admit they have done this young man a grievious wrong. A retrospective alteration restoring the provisions of the 1992 scheme would enable this student to complete his studies and would not result in an avalanche of applications.
Why is it that in the so-called thorough examination of the case in the Department Galway County Council has never been contacted to inquire into the circumstances where this student was advised to commence his university studies in 1992 and to sit the leaving certificate examination in 1993? Why were the higher education grant payments made in 1993-94 but subsequently withdrawn?
Shame on any Government which would turn a deaf ear on a case such as this. The Minister should act now to ensure justice in this case.