Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

407 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals he has to abolish the 15 mile limit in regard to the upper and lower level of maintenance grant at third level colleges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26355/00]

Under the terms of clause 5 of the higher education grants scheme, maintenance grants are payable to eligible students at either the adjacent or the non-adjacent rate. Except in the case of mature students, the adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable where the grantholder's normal residence is 15 miles or less from the college being attended. The non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant is payable in all other cases.

Prior to 1995, students who were residing more than 15 miles from the college and who could reasonably be expected to travel to college each day, having regard to the journey and available transport, were only entitled to the adjacent rate of maintenance grant. The schemes of third level student support, since 1995, provide that the non-adjacent rate would be payable in all circumstances where the student resides more than 15 miles from the college.

In any such grant scheme terms and conditions have, of necessity, to be introduced and it is considered that the 15 mile adjacency condition is a fair and reasonable one. Any proposal to pay all grantholders at the higher, non-adjacent rate of maintenance grant would have significant cost implications and would have to have regard to overall resource constraints and other competing demands in the education sector.

In the current financial year expenditure on student support, including free fees, is expected to be about £250 million.

In view of the scale of expenditure involved and the representations being made by students and other groups, on 11 November I announced that I was setting up immediately 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. The 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.

I recently established an action group on access to third level education with the aim of tackling under representation of disadvantaged students. This action group will advise me on the development of a co-ordinated framework to promote participation at third level by such students.

I have asked the group to provide a report to me within three months.

As an indication of the Government's support in promoting equity in access and as a purely initial step, pending the findings of the group, I have announced the introduction of a special maintenance grant payable to disadvantaged grantholders, targeted at those most in need.
The full rates of the special maintenance grant entail increases over the standard rates as follows: from £1,775 to £2,000 for students residing more than 15 miles from college; and from £710 to £1,000 for students resident within 15 miles of college.
Tentative indications are that up to of 10,000 students may benefit from this measure.