My Department funds three means tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in third level institutions and one maintenance grant scheme in respect of students attending approved post-leaving certificate courses in approved PLC centres: the higher education grants scheme, the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme, the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees and the maintenance grant scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses.
The higher education grant scheme operates under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992. Under these 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. The Acts further provide, inter alia, for the making of grants to mature students whose means and those of their parents, where the mature students are dependent on their parents do not exceed prescribed limits.
Mature students are categorised as either independent mature students or mature students dependent on parents. An independent mature student is defined to mean a mature student who was not ordinarily resident at home with his or her parents from the October preceding their entry to an approved course. Independent mature students are assessed without reference to either their parents' income or address. Similar provisions apply in relation to the other maintenance grant schemes.
Under the means test provisions of the schemes the reckonable income of a candidate, other than an independent mature candidate, is his/her gross income from all sources, and the gross income of his/her parents or guardians where applicable. Certain specified social welfare and health board payments are exempt.
A reduction in the age threshold defining mature student status under my Department's maintenance grants schemes would have to be considered in the light of available financial resources and other competing demands in the education sector. At present there are no plans to change the eligibility criteria in this regard.