Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Seán Haughey

Question:

608 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the plans he has to increase higher education grant payments; if this situation is under constant review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7534/01]

The statutory framework for the maintenance grants scheme, as set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992, provides for means tested higher education grants in order to assist students to attend full-time third level education.

My approach has been to follow the practice of recent years and increase the reckonable income limits in line with movements in the average industrial wage in the previous year. I approved an increase of 5% in the reckonable income limits for the 2000-01 academic year. This exceeded the increase in the average industrial wage for the period March 1998 to March 1999, which was 4.5%. I also increased by 5% the allowance by which the income limits may be increased in respect of other family members pursuing a course of study.
Similarly in relation to the value of the grant, the practice in recent years has been to increase the level of maintenance grants annually at least in line with inflation. Last June, in line with this policy, I announced increases of 5% in the rates of maintenance grant. The reference value for inflation is the annual percentage increase in the CPI to mid-February 2000. The increase of 5% in grant rates for 2000-01 was higher than the reference value, which was 4.3%.
I announced late last year 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.
Issues relating to the implementation of the team's recommendations will be addressed when its report has been completed.
In September, 2000, when setting up the action group on access to third level education, I announced, as an initial step pending the findings of the group, the introduction of a special rates of maintenance grant payable to disadvantaged grant holders. The adjacent and non-adjacent rates announced were £1,000 and £2,000 respectively.
I have now received the report of the action group. I am at present considering the recommendations and hope to be in a position to make an initial response in the near future.
609.

the Minister for Education and Science if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 948 of 29 September 1999 the review, which was being undertaken by his officials and officials from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, of proposed improvements in the administration of the third level grant schemes has been completed; and if so, if the review has been published; and if he will make a statement of the matter. [7535/01]

Amendments to the schemes of student support in recent years have sought to address anomalies and promote uniformity across the schemes.

With regard to the future administration of the schemes of student support, officials of my Department have been engaged with officials from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in relation to possible options. This process is ongoing. The Deputy will appreciate that there are major implications, for example, for the local authorities and vocational education committees, in any proposals to change the administration of the schemes. It is my intention, therefore, that there will be full consultation with all interested parties and I have previously indicated that no irrevocable decisions will be taken in relation to any future arrangements prior to such consultation taking place.

I announced late last year 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.

Issues relating to the implementation of the team's recommendations will be addressed when its report has been completed.