The charge referred to by the Deputy is levied by third level institutions to defray the costs of examinations, registration and student services. The increase in the charge brings the amount contributed by students more into line with the cost of providing these services. The effect on funding for individual third level institutions is cost neutral this year.
Students who are eligible for means-tested student support will, in addition to any grant they are entitled to, have the €670 charge paid on their behalf, either directly by my Department or through the local authorities and vocational education committees. This means that 34% of students in universities and 47% of students in institutes of technology will not have to pay the charge.
The increase in the charge should be viewed in the context of an overall package of measures that I announced earlier this year aimed at increasing and improving the student support schemes for the 2002-03 academic year. In the current financial year the Government will spend over €360 million on student supports, including free fees.
It is estimated that the cost per student of providing third level education in the current academic year will exceed €6,000 for arts, law and business courses, €8,000 for science courses and €9,000 for engineering and medicine. The contribution from students has to be seen in light of these figures.
As regards free fees, I am conducting a review of student support provisions aimed at ensuring that the benefits of the substantial investment being made are maximised in the context of the Government's objectives of achieving greater access to third level education among lower socio-economic groups. The free fees initiative is being considered in the context of that review. My aim is to ensure that the available funding is targeted in a manner that achieves the maximum impact from the point of view of equity of access to third level education.