Written Answers. - Student Support Schemes.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

15 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science when it is intended to introduce the payment of maintenance grants through a unified and flexible grant payment system in regard to the commitment given in An Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21754/02]

My Department funds four maintenance grant schemes for third level and further education students. These are the higher education grants scheme, the vocational education committees' scholarships scheme, the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees and the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post leaving certificate courses.

The higher education grants scheme is administered by the local authorities. The other three schemes are administered by the vocational education committees.

Given the nature of the student support schemes and the application, means testing and disbursement processes involved, officials of my Department have engaged with officials of the Department of Social and Family Affairs in relation to options for the future administration of the various student support schemes.

Consideration has been given to a proposal that a transfer of responsibility for the operation of the maintenance grants schemes to a single agency or body, such as the Department of Social and Family Affairs, might be administratively more appropriate.
This view has been endorsed by the Cromien report of October 2000 on the review of my Department's operations, systems and staffing needs and by the report of the action group on access to third level education which was published in July 2001.
The Deputy will be aware that the timeframe for delivering on the commitments in an Agreed Programme for Government of June 2002 is the term of office of the Government. When I have had an opportunity of considering the range of issues involved in implementing the commitment, I would expect to be in a position to arrive at a more definitive timeframe.
The Deputy will also 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 maintenance grants schemes. It is my intention, therefore, that there will be full consultation with all interested parties and that no irrevocable decisions will be taken in relation to any future arrangements prior to such consultation taking place.