Under the free fees initiative, the State meets the tuition fees of eligible students who are attending full-time undergraduate courses, which must generally be of at least two years' duration, at approved colleges. It only applies to first time, full-time undergraduate students pursuing courses to which free fees apply. The position is similar to the third level student support schemes, maintenance grants are not payable to candidates who already hold an undergraduate degree and are pursuing a second undergraduate degree. These restrictions apply to every student who already holds a qualification at any level, irrespective of whether funding was previously awarded.
The objective of the free fees initiative and the student support scheme is to assist as many students as possible in obtaining one undergraduate degree and one postgraduate degree. Any proposal to change these guidelines would have significant financial consequences for the Exchequer in respect of all third level colleges, which currently benefit under the free fees initiative.
However, section 21 of the Finance Act, 2000, and section 29 of the Finance Act, 2001, provide for the introduction of tax relief for undergraduate fees paid in publicly and privately funded colleges here and in other EU member states. This new relief, which will apply at the standard rate of tax, will be available to full-time and part-time undergraduate students. Further details on claiming this relief are available from local tax offices or on Revenue's Internet site at http://www.revenue.ie.