Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Michael Bell

Question:

150 Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason third level grants are being paid in sterling to students who are attending universities in Northern Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the loss of funds to these students as result of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8349/98]

Since 1996 the student support schemes have been extended to provide maintenance grants to undergraduate students pursuing approved third level courses in other EU member states. Prior to this, such grants were only payable to students who were pursuing approved courses in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

In this context, following discussions with the local authorities regarding the necessary administrative arrangements, it was agreed that students pursuing approved courses in other EU member states, including Northern Ireland, would be paid the value of the grant in the currency of the country in which they were studying. It was further agreed that the value of the maintenance grant to be paid, in all circumstances, would be the Irish value converted to the currency of the relevant country in which the student was studying, at the prevailing exchange rate. Previously, students studying in Northern Ireland were paid the amount of the grant in sterling, without reference to exchange rates. Those students studying in Northern Ireland who were assessed under the student support schemes prior to 1996 continue to receive their grants in sterling, without reference to exchange rates. Students who commenced their studies from 1996 are paid under the revised arrangements. I am satisfied that these arrangements are equitable and efficient.

I am not in a position to supplement grant aid for students pursuing courses in Northern Ireland without giving rise to an anomalous inequityvis-a -vis students studying elsewhere in the EU.