Written Answers. - Grant Payments.

Richard Bruton

Question:

113 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the present income thresholds and payment rates which apply in respect of the higher education grant; the monthly index used to update the income thresholds and the payment rates each year; if he has made provisions in the 2003 Estimates for this standard indexation; and if he has made provision for any other improvements in the scheme. [23061/02]

It has been my Department's approach in recent years, to increase the reckonable income limits under the maintenance grant schemes, in accordance with movements in the average industrial wage in the previous year. This year, I approved an increase of 7% in the reckonable income limits for the 2002 to 2003 academic year. This exceeded the increase in the average industrial wage for the period March 2000 to March 2001, which was 6.7%. I also approved a significant increase of 15% in the allowance by which the income thresholds may be increased for each dependant, where two or more children are in further or higher education. This is in line with the commitment in the June 2002 programme for Government. Similarly in relation to the value of the grant, the practice in recent years has been to increase the level of maintenance grants annually at least in line with inflation. This year, in line with this policy, I announced increases of 5% in the rates of maintenance grant. The reference value for inflation is the annual percentage increase in the CPI to mid-February 2002. The increase of 5% in grant rates for 2002 to 2003 was higher than the reference value, which was 4.7%.

My Department is at present conducting a review of student support provisions aimed at ensuring that the benefits of the substantial investment being made are maximised. This review will cover a range of topics relating to the schemes of student support including the level of maintenance grants, eligibility and income limits with respect to the grants, and the free fees initiative. Decisions regarding increases in income thresholds and maintenance grant levels will not be taken, pending completion of this review and, accordingly, provision to take accounts of such increases is not reflected in the abridged book of estimates for 2003. The current income thresholds and rates of maintenance grants which apply under the 2002 schemes follows in tabular form for the Deputy's information.

Appendix II

Higher Education Grants Scheme 2002

Reckonable Income Limits + (for the period 6 April, 2001 to 31 December 2001 (the tax year 2001)

Number ofDependentChildren

Full Maintenanceand full fees

Part Maintenance (50%)and full fees

Full Fees Only

Part Fees (50%) Only

Less than 4

€21,629 (IR£17,034)

€22,914 (IR£18,046)

€25,805 (IR£20,323)

€27,304 (IR£21,504)

4-7

€23,770 (IR£18,721)

€25,055 (IR£19,732)

€27,947 (IR£22,010)

€29,445 (IR£23,190)

8 or more

€25,805 (IR£20,323)

€27,304 (IR£21,504)

€30,088 (IR£23,696)

€31,586 (IR£24,877)

+In the 2002-2003 academic year where 2 or more children (or the candidate's parent) are pursuing a course of study listed below the reckonable income limits may be increased by €2,615 (IR£2,059) where there are 2 such children, €5,230 (IR£4,119) where there are 3 such children and so on, by increments of €2,615 (IR£2,059).
attending full-time third level education
attending a recognised PLC course, student nurse training or student Garda training
participating in a CERT course of at least one years duration
attending a full-time Teagasc course in an agricultural college
attending a recognised full-time further education course, of at least one year's duration, in Northern Ireland.
Higher Education Grants Scheme, 2002
Maintenance Grants Rates

Non Adjacent Rate

Adjacent Rate

Full Maintenance

€2,510 (M1) (IR£1,976)

€1,004 (M2) (IR£791)

Part Maintenance 50%

€1,254 (M3) (IR987)

€501 (M4) (IR£395)

Richard Bruton

Question:

114 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the rate of payment made to persons under the various additional support funds for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage participation in third level education; if increases in these funds have been built into the 2003 Estimates; and the changes in the eligibility or payments which he plans. [23062/02]

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.

To date a number of measures have been taken in response to some of the main recommendations in the report aimed at increasing participation in third level education by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Special rates of maintenance grant, usually referred to as top-up grants, payable to disadvantaged grant holders, were introduced with effect from the 2000-01 academic year. Following a recent review, I increased the annual income thresholds for the special rates by 32%, a significant increase. For 2002-03, I also increased the special rate of grant to €4,000 for students residing more than 15 miles from college and €1,600 for students resident within 15 miles of college. This is equivalent to a top-up of €1,490 and €596 respectively, for eligible students, on the ordinary maintenance grant. As a result of the review, it is expected that the number of students qualifying for the top-up grant in 2002-2003 will double to 7,000 students. A new millennium partnership fund for disadvantage was introduced with effect from 2001. The fund provides assistance to partnership companies and community groups to develop their support schemes for students from disadvantaged families. Area Development Management limited, under whose aegis the partnerships operate, accepted my Department's request that it would administer the fund for the 2001-2002 academic year. The total allocation for the 2001/2002 academic year was €1.2 million, with 37 partnerships and community groups receiving allocations. For 2002-2003, I have increased the provision for the fund to €2 million. ADM, which is continuing to administer the fund, has notified 50 area partnerships and community groups of their allocations in respect of the academic year. It is primarily a matter for each partnership and community group to decide on the level of financial support it provides in each case, depending on its allocation and the circumstances of each applicant. Financial support is also available to students, in approved third level institutions, through the student assistance access fund which, since 1999, has replaced my Department's hardship fund. The objective of the fund is to assist students who might, due to their financial circumstances, be unable to continue their third level studies. The fund is administered on a discretionary basis by each institution and provides direct financial support to disadvantaged students to assist them to remain on in college. It is a matter for each institution to decide on the level of financial support it provides in each case, depending on the circumstances of each applicant.
The measures which target students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including eligibility conditions and, where appropriate, rates of payment, are subject to periodic review within my Department. The provision for alleviation of disadvantage, as set out in the abridged Estimates volume for 2003, is €26 million and I am satisfied that this represents an adequate provision for the measures aimed at targeting students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report of the action group on access to third level education sets out a co-ordinated framework of actions required to improve equity of access to third level. The group considered that a single co-ordinating body was essential in order to realise the framework. Accordingly, a key recommendation of the group was that a national office for equity of access to higher education be established to ensure the effective implementation of many of the recommendations in the report. I have given approval for the establishment of the office under the auspices of the Higher Education Authority. I anticipate that it will facilitate the aim of increasing third level access by the three target groups of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, students with a disability and mature, second chance, students in partnership with my Department, the third level institutions and other stakeholders and agencies.