The higher education grant schemes operate under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992. Under the Acts, a mature student is defined as a person of not less than 23 years of age on 1 January in the year of entry to an approved third level institution.
Under the terms of the higher education grants scheme, mature students are categorised as either mature students dependent on parents or independent mature students. A mature student dependent on parents is defined to mean a mature candidate who was ordinarily resident with her-his parents from the October preceding their entry to an approved course. Maintenance grants may be paid to mature students whose means and those of their parents, where the mature students are dependent on their parents, and the means of their spouses, if any, do not exceed prescribed limits.
An independent mature student is defined to mean a mature candidate who was not ordinarily resident with his-her parents from the October preceding their entry to an approved course. Independent mature students are deemed to be self-supporting and are assessed without reference to either their parents' income or address.
When assessing the means of students, other than mature students, the Acts specify that the students' means and those of their parents or guardians must be below a prescribed limit. This provision requires that parental income be taken into account, irrespective of the individual circumstances in any case where the student is not a mature student.
Under the terms of the 1999 higher education grants scheme – the relevant scheme in this case –"independent mature candidate" means a mature candidate who was not ordinarily resident with his-her parents from 1 October 1998. A mature candidate dependent on parents means a mature candidate who was ordinarily resident with his-her parents from 1 October 1998.
My Department understands that the student to whom the Deputy refers, resided with her parents from June 1998 to August 1999 and, accordingly, she can be assessed only as a mature candidate dependent on parents.
The terms and conditions of the student support schemes are of general application and, accordingly, it is not possible to make exceptions in individual cases such as this.
However, it is recognised that the provisions outlined above can give rise to difficulties in individual cases and my Department is examining the issues involved. I announced on 11 November that I was setting up a special project team to carry out a comprehensive review of every aspect of the maintenance grants, and other student supports, to ensure their relevance to the needs of present day third level students. This review will include the level of grants, the methods by which they are paid, eligibility and income limits, accommodation needs, student support services, the most suitable paying agency, the provision of an appeals system, student loans and taxation measures. The project team is to report to me by the end of March 2001.