Written Answers. - Third Level Fees.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

495 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason he omitted nurses taking the 1999-2000 nursing degree course from financial help; his views on whether this is a discriminatory procedure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19161/00]

On 12 May 2000, I announced a new initiative under which nurses and midwives wishing to undertake nursing and certain other undergraduate degree courses on a part-time basis will have their fees paid by their health service employers in return for a commitment to continue working in the public health service for a period of up to two years after they complete the courses.

This initiative will come into operation next year and will continue until at least the year 2005, when it will be reviewed in the light of developments in pre-registration nursing education. However, nurses and midwives who commence courses covered by the initiative in the academic year 2000-1 will qualify for a refund of their fees in 2001 provided they sign a written undertaking, before they commence the course, to continue working in the public health service for the required period after the completion of the course.

This initiative has been welcomed by the nursing unions as the most equitable approach to the provision of financial support for nurses undertaking post-registration education programmes, and I certainly do not consider that it is in any way discriminatory. The position is that the initiative does not apply retrospectively to either full-time or part-time nursing degree courses undertaken by nurses during the academic year 1999-2000.

I might mention, for the information of the Deputy, that the President of National University of Ireland, Galway has notified me that the academic council of the University has approved a number of changes to its Bachelor of Nursing full-time degree programme. That particular programme will no longer be designated as full-time, but will be extended over one calendar year and timetabled to enable students to work for a substantial part of the week. On the basis of those changes, the revised programme has been included in the list of courses that will be covered by the fees initiative.