I am aware of the recent surveys, which highlighted that students who attend fee paying secondary schools are more likely to go to university than those from other schools. It is not surprising that the surveys would confirm this trend.
One of the outcomes of the free fees initiative appears to be the notable increase in the popularity of fee paying secondary schools, with well off parents now diverting disposable income from an investment in their children's third level education to investment in a more privileged second level education.
However, the challenge I face as Minister for Education and Science is to encourage and support an increased uptake of third level courses by students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who might otherwise not consider such options.
There is a provision within the national development plan for a third level access fund totalling €120 million, over the period 2000 to 2006, to tackle disadvantage at third level. In line with a commitment under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, my predecessor, Deputy Woods, established the Action Group on Access to Third Level Education to advise on the development of a co-ordinated strategy to increase participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students and students with a disability at third level. The action group's report was published in July 2001.