I propose to take Questions Nos. 445 and 453 to 455, inclusive, together.
The back to education allowance scheme is a second chance educational scheme designed to assist unemployed people and other disadvantaged groups who are being held back in their search for employment by a lack of qualifications. A review of the basic purpose underlying my Department's back to education provisions was carried out recently. In the light of this and of the expenditure constraints facing us this year, the scheme has been revised.
Regarding changes in the scheme as it relates to post graduates, I am satisfied that people in possession of a third level qualification have already achieved a good level of academic attainment, which should impact positively on their employment prospects. In a time of financial constraint I want to ensure that supports are directed to those with more pressing needs. I have, however, instructed my officials to liaise with the relevant bodies to identify specific postgraduate courses, such as the Higher Diploma in Education, which add significantly to a person's employability and to which the back to education allowance should continue to apply. I expect these courses to be identified in the near future.
At present there are 639 postgraduate students participating on the back to education scheme. There were 544 in the 2001-02 academic year and 524 in 2000-01 year. It is estimated that to exclude all persons in this category from the scheme would realise savings of between €3.5 million and €4 million annually.