I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 65 of 2 October 2003. The action group's report was published in July 2001.
Department expenditure on third level access measures since 2001 has been as follows:
2001 –€15.3 million
2002 –€23.98 million
2003 –€26 million (provision)
The most significant spending recommendation of the report of the action group on access to third level education concerned the introduction of special rates of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students, commonly referred to as top-up grants. These recommendations were introduced, with retrospective effect, from the 2000-01 academic year.
Following a review early in 2002, I increased the annual income threshold for the special rates by 32%. For 2002-03, I also increased the special rate of grant to €4,000 for students residing more than 15 miles from college and to €1,600 for students residing within 15 miles of college. As a result of the review, it was expected that the number of students qualifying for the top-up grant in 2002-03 would double to 7,000 students. Recent figures show that this target was exceeded with approximately 8,000 students receiving the top-up grant in 2002-03.