Student Support Bill 2008: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The House is almost empty. I had expected that many people would follow proceedings on the Internet but, unfortunately, other events in Washington will take precedence.

Before the debate adjourned I was discussing the cost of living for students, particularly accommodation costs. I also referred to my sons who have completed primary, secondary and third level education. Before entering the Chamber, I attended a meeting with representatives of the Union of Students of Ireland who made three key points.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, was due to establish a student accommodation task force today but failed to do so. I urge the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Seán Haughey, to exert pressure on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to proceed with this important step.

Students are living in very poor accommodation for which they pay prices of up to €700 in Dublin. This makes a mockery of the grant which is only €3,420. Even in Limerick, accommodation in some areas is very poor, particularly in the vicinity of University College Limerick. Many students live in run-down, old-style houses, paying rents to faceless agents working on behalf of absentee landlords who will not invest in upgrading the accommodation. The attitude of these landlords is that any accommodation will do for students. Despite this, students also have problems having their deposits returned at the end of the year because landlords claim that damage has been done to their properties. Clearly, students must take the blame when damage is done.

I hope a large number of Deputies and Senators will meet the USI representatives who are lobbying the Oireachtas today. The USI has been demanding action on the accommodation issue for some time. The problem must be resolved before enrolment in September. For this reason, the Minister must establish a student accommodation task force as soon as possible.

The issue of part-time students is not addressed in the Bill. In the United Kingdom, students studying part-time higher education courses may apply for non-repayable grants to cover tuition fees and other course-related costs. Many of those who decided to abandon their education in the middle of the Celtic tiger boom want to return to education. With the construction industry in decline, many workers in the sector have lost their jobs and wish to return to education. It is a pity funding is not available for this purpose because we must ensure this group is able to return to education. These people will have to be educated. That is very important. Fine Gael also proposed that the national training fund, NTF, be used to introduce a scheme for individuals who have not already benefited from higher education to pay for courses in higher education institutions taken on a part-time basis.

I want to address an issue in my constituency related to a third level college for Ennis. Much has been said on that over the past number of years. County Clare is expanding rapidly. We will have a railway line all the way from the west, particularly from Galway and Mayo, to Ennis and on to Limerick and Cork. Instead of students going to the various third level institutions, it would be nice if students could stay at home and attend a third level college in Ennis. The town of Ennis is an ideal location. The region has experienced a decline and it would be good to have a shift to the west rather than the east. The Shannon area is a key area for attracting new foreign investment and the supply of graduates. There is inadequate funding in education. Primary and secondary education is seriously underfunded. We have all put down parliamentary questions and made representations to Ministers on our primary and secondary schools. A long list of schools in County Clare need urgent facilities and buildings. There is also a problem in our third level colleges, which are underfunded. This threatens to interfere with quality and there is a significant case for investment. This was brought to my attention by the students today. There are outdated buildings, the libraries are understocked and classrooms are overcrowded. This must be addressed.

The students stated that Ireland's spend on third level education is below the OECD average as a proportion of GDP. While the Government provided €184 million for third level infrastructure in the 2008 budget, it is doubtful that this is sufficient to keep pace with third level college funding requirements after years of underfunding in the sector. This must be examined. With manufacturing industry moving out of Ireland we must always produce graduates who will meet the technology demands for modern industry.

The independent appeals board is part of this Bill and I welcome it. It is a good idea. We have all had cases in our constituencies of students who have been turned down for third level grants and have gone to appeal. In some cases they have been successful. I had a case of a constituent with learning difficulties who wanted to do a repeat course at third level and was deemed ineligible for the grant. Thankfully, he came out well from it but many students do not. Any decisions by the independent appeals board should be fair and equitable. That is very important for an appeals board.

I again welcome the Bill. I hope it goes quickly through the various Stages of the House and that it will come into place for the academic year of 2009-10. It will go some way towards helping students but much more is to be done, particularly on the grant, which is a maximum of €3,420, to deal with the high cost of accommodation. However, overall, I welcome and commend the Bill.

I, too, welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on the Student Support Bill. It is long overdue legislation and a very welcome first step in the right direction. The Student Support Bill is due to come into effect from the next academic year, 2009-10, assuming the legislation is passed before the summer recess, which I sincerely hope happens. Under the existing system students are required to apply for grants through their local authorities and VECs. For years, many students have faced anxious waits to receive their grant payments, despite how small they are and have requested that grants in different counties be received at the same time, but there has been discrimination in the system. Students in some counties received their grants earlier than in others.

The current system consists of 66 bodies which dispense the grants, but this Bill will halve this number to 33. While I welcome this, we need to move towards a more centralised system to deal with the administration of grants, which will help us achieve economies of scale and maximum efficiencies. The Minister for Education and Science has stated that as a result of this Bill grants will be paid at a more timely rate and that long delays will become a thing of the past. This sounds very good and I hope the timeframes proposed on receipts of grants will be implemented. I still believe with the 33 VECs we will not achieve the maximum efficiency we want to achieve with this type of payment system. We should move ahead as soon as possible towards a fully centralised system.

Can the Minister guarantee that under the proposed new system all students will receive their grants in the same week? We are talking about 57,000 grant payments and there is investment of €5 million in a new computer system to make this happen. Confirmation that this will happen would be greatly appreciated. The current application form for a grant is long and complicated and I am glad a more simplified form will be introduced.

I also welcome the creation of an independent appeals body which will for the first time make it possible for students to appeal if they do not receive their grant. However, the waiting period of 45 days regarding a financial matter for a student is too long so we need to reduce that to 15 days, or 30 days at the very maximum. Many students are totally dependent and reliant on their grants. Despite how small the grant is, they need this money. I would like to see the timeframe for appeals pulled back. I note that 55 more staff will be required in the VECs to administer the grant scheme, yet 90 staff will no longer be needed at local authority level. What will happen with those staff? Where will they be redeployed?

Last July, the grant increased to €3,420 per annum. While most people would welcome an increase in the grant, it is a small amount in the first place. For anybody living in Dublin and having to pay rental income of at least €500 per month before bills and food, the money does not last long. In my constituency, Dublin North-East, I receive complaints about the length of time it takes to process the grants, the amount of red tape involved and the fact that the grant is too low and does not cover living expenses. Students have to take up part-time employment to cover their college expenses and that should not be the case.

The Union of Students in Ireland lobbied Deputies and Senators today and raised points such as the shortage of affordable rented accommodation for students, particularly in Dublin. We need to consider accommodation. There was a proposal that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government set up a student accommodation task force. We on this side of the House would like to see that happen. There is a lack of high-quality accommodation for students. Affordable high-quality accommodation is the issue.

With regard to the standard of college education over the last number of years, investment has certainly decreased and if it were not for the likes of philanthropists such as Chuck Feeney our universities would be even further behind. I welcome this Bill and hope it will be passed before the summer recess. There is a lot done but there is certainly a lot more to do.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which has been a long time coming and is welcome. It may be a little late but it is important that it is now being debated in the House. I hope it will receive a swift passage through the Houses. I note from the contributions of previous speakers that the Bill appears to be receiving cross-party support, which is good because it is important legislation.

The Bill updates the current legislation on student grants. There are currently 66 bodies dealing with student applications for maintenance grants and the system has become unwieldy. Many families and individual students become confused, as they finish secondary school and think about moving on to third level education, by the amount of form-filling involved and the number of different bodies from which they must obtain information. It is to the credit of the Minister for Education and Science that the procedure is now being streamlined. When the legislation is passed and the regulations are published, the 33 city and county VECs will administer the scheme.

Since its introduction, the grant scheme has been successful in ensuring the vast majority of our young people have the opportunity to attend third level education, be it an institute of technology or a university. The Bill will be generally welcomed because it will ensure we have an efficient and customer-friendly grant scheme and that individual families, particularly families without a history of attendance at third level education, are encouraged and assisted in allowing their children to continue their education.

The success of this economy over the last 20 years has been due in part, although not solely, to the fact that we have a well educated young workforce. This is attested to by the number of foreign direct investment businesses in the country. At a time when the economy is slowing down, not just in this country but worldwide, we will probably have to invest more in further education and in ensuring the percentage of second level students who go on to third level increases significantly. We have seen the flight of jobs — particularly low-paid, unskilled jobs — from our country to third world and other developing countries.

The commitment in the last programme for Government to provide for grant payment through a unified scheme was positive and will be followed through. In the first major modernisation of the grant scheme since the introduction of the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Act 1968, this legislation goes a long way in providing for more efficient arrangements and ensuring that grant applications will be considered within a reasonable time frame and in a more transparent manner. Students who apply for grants will know that they will have their decisions within a certain time and, having received a positive decision, they will receive their payments on a regular basis. I know from experience that students are currently concerned because their grants are not arriving on time. This causes anxiety to students who are waiting for their grant to arrive on a certain day. It is important that the Minister, by regulation as provided for in the Bill, ensures this happens. The publication of the Bill marks a milestone in this process and will make a significant contribution to greater equality of access for students who wish to move on to higher education. The Union of Students in Ireland has made a strong case in promoting this Bill and I know its members are glad to see it is finally being discussed.

The legislation will bring clarity to the process of applying for higher education grants. We should not let the occasion go without acknowledging the role played by local authorities in processing grant applications to date. I can only speak personally, but the sympathetic consideration given by the local authority to families in my area of County Carlow is to be commended. There is a genuine willingness on the part of individual members of local authorities to accommodate families they know on a personal basis would experience hardship, in the absence of a grant, in ensuring their children go to college. I saw recently that the cost of keeping a student in college for a year is between €7,000 and €8,000. That is an average cost, but it can be higher depending on where the student goes to college.

This brings me to the question of student accommodation. I know anecdotally that this year great difficulties were experienced by some students in finding accommodation in Dublin, Cork and Galway. These places seem to be the hotspots when it comes to student accommodation. There are a number of reasons for this. Many landlords are now moving out of the student accommodation market and looking for more sustainable tenants who will be there on a 12-month basis rather than for eight or nine months. This is causing much hardship. In addition, rent for student accommodation has increased significantly over the last two and a half years. Perhaps now that there is a glut of accommodation, as we are told, rents may stabilise somewhat. However, accommodation will continue to be a problem in certain areas. While this may not be an educational matter, it is something the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government may consider. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is aware of this problem and is attempting to sort something out in this regard. I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.

Financial barriers have long been recognised as a major difficulty for many students who wish to go on to third level education. The increases in maintenance grants over recent years have made the third level option more affordable for a large number of students and their families. In approving the higher increases in the special rate of maintenance grant, the Minister and the Government continue to further target that support at those most in need and those who should be encouraged most to go on to further education.

The main objective of further and third level access programmes and initiatives is to encourage more young people from disadvantaged areas and disadvantaged families to continue with education. It is an ongoing struggle. Teachers in secondary schools as far as possible encourage students with particular abilities and skills to maximise them at third level. While it is difficult because of economic or social reasons to get them all to third level, we have seen a significant improvement in the numbers and the percentage of students going on to third level, and I would like to see that percentage increased even further.

The Government's commitment to supporting high rates of participation in third level education at all levels of society will ensure that Ireland continues to attract and maintain investment in high quality jobs and that the fruits of the success of the economy over the past 20 years will continue. Now more than ever we must ensure our students and workers, and young workers in particular, have the skills and education to avail of the high-end jobs now coming to the country.

We have seen a fall-off in the bottom or mid-skilled jobs and for individuals to tap in and be part of that new breed of worker, they must avail of at least second level education and, more importantly, third level education. In that context, it is important we look at the role of the institutes of technology.

A debate has gone on recently on the application by some institutes of technology for university status. The Minister and the Department are to be commended for looking at the overall broad effect of upgrading or reclassifying any particular IT to university status on the basis of the impact it would have on the other third level institutes.

We must put on record the role the old regional technical colleges, now institutes of technology, have played in the economic success of the country. They were first set up in 1970 and we were fortunate that, following on Donogh O'Malley's famous free second level education announcement in 1968, we provided the resources and the funding for them. When it was difficult in the late 1960s and early 1970s for any Government to provide funding for a new expanded third level arena, we had new regional technical colleges to take up the slack of students who were coming on stream having got a secondary education. These students went on to third level education, went into the workforce and were available to take up the jobs we found in the 1980s and 1990s. The experience that those students received certainly contributed to the economic success of the country, but the question of university status for one IT or two must not be taken in isolation and must be considered in the broad context of the knock-on effect on the other institutes of technology.

While according to international best practice we have sufficient, if not too many, universities in this country, there is an important role for institutes of technology to play. Perhaps we should look at going down that road and putting more resources into them to ensure they produce the graduates needed for the new jobs coming on stream.

In view of the recent closures, and the 250 job losses announced yesterday by Dell which is unfortunately a sign of things to come, the Minister with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment must look seriously at the area of upskilling and reskilling. While perhaps we would have thought that the only role of the Minister was to take up the baton after students have finished their leaving certificate and go on to third level, there is a new area at which the Minister must look, namely, the reskilling of mature individuals who possibly left the education system at the age of 20, 21 or 22 and went into good jobs, but who find the skills and education now required are different. While these workers are still possibly in their mid-40s and have much to contribute to the economy, they will need assistance in upskilling or, in many cases, reskilling.

The Bill is a positive development which will be of major benefit to students in the education system. Currently, there are four grant schemes operated by 66 bodies and an important aspect of the new grant scheme is that it will be operated by one body, the VECs.

One aspect of it which disappoints me a little is the timescale of the legislation. The Minister reported that it will the 2009-10 academic year before the new arrangements are put in place. While I would have liked to see that happen for the academic year 2008-09, it will not be possible administratively because the Department is already in the process of getting ready for the grant schemes for the new academic year. That said, I note that arrangements are being made by the Department and by individual authorities and bodies involved to have in place the operation of this legislation for June, July or August 2009 and I wish them well in making such arrangements.

The provision of student loans, which is a feature on the international scene, is an area I ask the Minister to examine. I am aware of cases where families, even with the assistance of grants, are not in a financial position to allow their children go to third level. Great sacrifices are being made by families and I commend those involved for allowing their children participate in third level education when the individuals themselves have not had that opportunity. Even where sacrifices are being made by families, I have found that some students are unable to do a particular course because of the cost involved in going to the college concerned. Rural students, in particular, who do not have the opportunity of staying local to do a particular course, are obliged to go to colleges in Dublin, Cork, Galway and elsewhere, and due to economic circumstances find themselves going to third level colleges closer to home because that is affordable. I ask the Minister to look at approving loans that the Department could possibly guarantee and which would afford those students another grant option in the form of a top-up, which is successful in some other countries.

There are 56,000 students currently availing of further education in Ireland and a large majority of those are availing of higher education grants. It is an investment in the economy and I welcome anything we can do to encourage, promote and enhance that.

While this Bill is welcome, I ask the Minister, at the earliest opportunity, to produce and outline the regulations she proposes to announce so that families and individual students know exactly where they stand. It is a positive Bill and I commend the Government on bringing it forward.

I will speak to some very specific points on the Bill. We welcome the Bill and the fact that a mechanism is being put in place to ensure a unified scheme to replace the existing schemes. This is long overdue. I will not repeat the points made here previously because there seems to be general agreement about the main thrust of the Bill. My experience, both as a student and as a public representative, has been one typified by frustration. For a student to go into the third semester without receiving any payment whatsoever was a sad indictment of the system of student supports as they existed in the mid-1990s. It is blatantly obvious that the system has not changed much since then, notwithstanding the best efforts of local authority officials, especially those in Cork County Council, and those in VECs, who probably expedited the applications as best they could.

The important point is that the whole system is to be streamlined. In welcoming the Bill, I still do not think that there should be discrimination under section 8 for those students who are attending private colleges. If a student's parents have the means which would deem the student eligible to be successful in getting a grant for an approved college as defined in the Bill, I do not see why such a student cannot avail of a grant to attend a private college as well. In other words, the grant should be paid on the basis of the student rather than the college. We are talking about a social mechanism that enhances the student's ability or lightens the burden as he or she goes through the education system. There should be no discrimination on the basis of choosing one college over another.

We have all been subject to the USI lobby and I welcome its address of the situation as it pertains to part-time students. As previous speakers outlined, we are now in a society and an economy that needs to retrain and upskill itself constantly. I would like to see a situation whereby if somebody is laid off or is forced into part-time work, that person could be deemed eligible for some student support if it means that the person is enhancing his or her prospects of getting back into the labour force. It is time that the traditional mechanisms that existed are reviewed so that we can take account of a more plural society whereby everything is not designated by a person's parents' income, whether the person is eligible for a back to education allowance or whether a person has been out of education for a number of years and is receiving social welfare payments. The system should also take cognisance of those people who have been working full time for a number of years but will suffer a serious loss of income by going back into full-time education. Such people need a degree of support as well. We must take into account the whole gamut of society, not just a few people.

I welcome the appeals mechanism because the current system has been very prescriptive in how it arrives at a decision. If a student is going to college and if there are mitigating circumstances relating to the financial outgoings of his or her parents, they should be taken into account. To make a decision based on the P60, P21 and P45 and without taking other factors into account is not good enough. There needs to be a certain degree of discretion and I hope that it works in favour of the student when using the appeals mechanism. Where the VEC deems that the student is worthy of the grant, it should err on the side of granting financial assistance. I have met people who, because they are a couple of hundred euro over the limit, have been completely washed out of the system. There are people on fixed incomes in this country who need that financial assistance, but who have found themselves outside the system and cannot afford to return to college. That may be an issue for which we need to look at the income limits, but we still need to examine it on an overall basis.

We generally support the Bill. We believe that it is time to look at part-time students. We need to encourage more people into the education system and the way to do that is not to make it prohibitively expensive for them to do so. We believe that the grant should follow the student and not necessarily the so-called approved institution, as it is labelled in the Bill. There has been a marked increase in the number of private institutions that are providing excellent courses that ultimately add value to society and to the economy. If a student decides that he or she wants to go to a private college, he or she should not suffer discrimination on the basis that it is not an approved institution.

We are very lucky we have such a high standard of colleges in this country. It is very important that we keep the funding in place for our third level colleges. I encourage the business sector to get involved. In the past, that sector supported some colleges and there is nothing wrong with major businesses making funding available so that our students get the best opportunity when they go to those colleges. In the past ten years, people came back to work in this country and people did not emigrate. The day is ahead when more and more students who qualify in this country will be looking for work abroad. We must ensure they are educated and equipped to take up whatever challenges are there. We saw the job losses yesterday at Dell. This is a worrying development because we are talking about high-tech jobs and well trained people. In the past, one could walk from one job to another but that is not the situation now. It is important for us to keep with it in respect of education.

I am from a rural constituency in County Mayo, which has the highest number of people who have left the county and taken up third level education. I have seen parents in the past whose one wish was that their sons or daughters would get the opportunity to go to a third level college. I have seen parents work very hard on very low incomes to ensure their children got the opportunity they did not get.

I will deal first with the payment of grants. In recent years, parents have been sending their children to college in September. In some cases, these students only receive their grants in November, December or even the following year. There were 66 bodies dealing with this and that number will be reduced to 33. I hope that the staff and resources will be put in place to ensure that the commitment given in this Bill that these students and their parents will get the grant aid in time is honoured. These people, particularly households with children going to primary, secondary or third level education, have many outgoings in September, October and November. In some cases, this puts great pressure on the household when it is waiting for the grant aid and trying to subsidise their child in respect of their accommodation, a subject I will address later. It is important that we get this right this time and that the staff are put in place. If staff had been put in place in local authorities and VECs, we would not be dealing with this Bill today. There is no point in passing this Bill if we do not provide the resources and staff and give institutions the manpower to ensure these grants are paid on time and dealt with as quickly as possible.

I am glad to see that in this Bill the Minister talks about streamlining application forms. One would nearly need a degree to fill out the application forms for a disabled person's grant in the local authority area in which I live. The same is true for the application forms in the case of special housing aid for the elderly . Why can we not simplify the system? There is only one issue at the end of the day and that boils down to finances. There is a ceiling in respect of these grants and if one exceeds it, one does not get the grant. There is no need to put people through hoops in respect of the kind of information they must obtain for Departments, local authorities and the HSE. It does not make sense. I hope the bodies will be given the resources and money and that students will have their grants paid on time.

Every year, I encounter a problem in respect of mature students applying for third level grants. Another category is now being caught, namely, young women with children who return to the education system. They do their leaving certificate, qualify for college and are tested. A recent case involved a girl who had been independent since she was 17. She had a baby when she was 19 and went back and did her leaving certificate. When she applied for her third level grant, her parents' income was taken into account. It is time to change this. This girl is a lone parent who was getting rent allowance and living on her own means. She had no real contact with her family because of certain problems. She was a person in her own right. That application could not be dealt with simply because the income of her father and mother had to be taken into account. That must be changed quickly.

It is important that we make it easy for this young girl and girls like her all over this country if they have a child and want to continue their education. It is important that we educate these people because it is far better to educate them and get them into the workplace than have them on social welfare for the rest of their lives. It is very important that we give them every opportunity, make life easier for them and give them the chance to get back into the workforce.

In respect of the guidelines and the cut-off point, not enough credence is given to a family that has more than one child in third level education. The guidelines should be massively increased. It is difficult enough for somebody with a good income to have one child in third level education. Over the years, I have seen families on very poor incomes with two or three children in third level education. The guidelines should be increased because there is not enough for parents who have two or three children in third level institutions. It is important the Department deals with that and changes the guidelines.

Up to 2007, if a person in a household earned over €18,000, they did not get the top-up grant. If one had ten or 12 children, the cut-off point was still €18,000. This must be looked at. The top-up grant is vital for people on low incomes, whatever hope they have, because they just do not have the resources and income. The top-up grant is a social welfare-related payment and it is important that it is looked at. It is important for us to give these people a chance to get their children into third level education, make it easier for them and try to help and support them. I hope the Government looks at this in respect of third level fees overall. It is very important because the grant does not really cover anything. It only supports people. Parents must find deposits and must help their children with food and transport costs when they travel to cities because the day when one could leave a student without money has passed. One cannot have students wandering the streets of Dublin or Galway. It is wrong that we are forcing parents and students to work to educate themselves.

There is a time to work and a time for education. If a student has the opportunity to be in third level education, all their time, resources and energy should be put into getting educated rather than being forced to go out to work to raise the necessary resources to keep them in third level institutions. It is time we looked at that.

I, like everybody else, was at the briefing with the Union of Students in Ireland. It is important that we have the necessary accommodation for students. We have seen "Prime Time" programmes on accommodation. It is very important that these children get the best accommodation because at the end of the day, they are paying very well for it. It is very important that the Government and the State provides as much student accommodation as possible. The union is looking for a recommendation in respect of setting up a student accommodation task force. The Government gave a commitment that it would do this and I hope it is done quickly because it is very important to ensure that we get the best accommodation we can. We have seen in the past and recent reports have shown that students in very bad accommodation can suffer from poor mental health. It is wrong that people trying to be educated should have to live in poor conditions. It is important that we get the best accommodation we can for them.

I welcome this Bill and hope it will be passed in the Dáil in the coming days. I hope it goes to Committee Stage, that it will be dealt with before the summer and that all its recommendations will be ready for next September. It is important that we support our third level institutions. It is important that they get the funding because without a well educated workforce and facilities to match universities all over the world, we have no chance. The people of this country have always been well educated. Having listened to the views of people involved in the educational sector in recent years, I understand we have fallen back a little in this respect. It is important the necessary funding is provided by Government and that the best people are in place to educate our young people.

Rather than those involved in big business investing in the racing industry and other such industries, they should support third level colleges with the provision of funding and assistance in whatever way possible, as it is in their interests and that of this country that we have a well educated workforce. I would like more companies to invest in disadvantaged areas, to identify areas where they could provide grant aid to support students to go to third level colleges, pay for their accommodation needs and whatever costs they incur in their college education. That is important. In that way, they would be doing a good job for society. They could consider investing in disadvantages areas in Cork, Mayo, Dublin, Kerry and places where young people may not have the best opportunities.

I know students who attained the necessary points but did not have the necessary resources or support to go to third level college. That is wrong. If students have the brains and attain the necessary points, it should not be a matter of money that prevents them from going to college. They should be assisted. Companies should consider providing funding to colleges and supporting young people who need assistance to go to college. It is important that we have a well educated society for the future.

Tá lúcháir orm deis a bheith agam cúpla focal a rá ar an Bhille um Thacaíocht do Mhic Léinn 2008. Ar nós na cainteoirí eile ó gach taobh den Teach, cuirim fáilte roimh an Bhille. Tár sé thar am go mbeadh an Bille seo istigh. Nuair a chríochnóimid an Dara Céim, tá súil agam go rachaimid ar aghaidh go dtí Chéim an Choiste chomh luath agus is féidir.

Mar a dúirt an Teachta Ring, ba cheart go mbeidh an reachtaíocht ag feidhmiú ag tús na scoilbhliana 2008-09, atá amach romhainn. Mar ionadaí phoiblí, bhí sé ina ábhar iontais dúinn le blianta fada go raibh dhá chóras i gceist. Bhí iad siúd a bhí ag dul go dtí oideachais triú leibhéal in ann iarratais a dhéanamh chuig an chomhairle chontae chomh maith leis an choiste ghairmoideachais. Chruthaigh sé sin deacrachtaí do thuismitheoirí, ionadaí phoiblí agus oifigigh an chomhairle chontae agus an choiste ghairmoideachais. Mar iar-bhall do choiste ghairmoideachais Dhún na nGall ar feadh deich mbliana, cuirim fáilte roimh an cinneadh atá déanta chun na freagrachta iomlán a aistriú ón gcomhairle chontae go dtí an choiste ghairmoideachais. Tá a fhios againn anois, i gcás deacrachtaí ó thaobh iarratais de, go bhfuil orainn teagmháil a dhéanamh leis an choiste ghairmoideachais, atá ag plé le hoideachais ag an dara leibhéal. Cén fáth nach raibh an fhreagracht iomlán ar na coistí sin roimhe seo, nuair a bhíodar ag déileáil leis na deontais triú leibhéal? Tá go leor dualgais éagsúla — ó thaobh bóithre, uisce agus séarachais, srl. — ag na comhairlí contae cheana féin. Mar sin, tá sé praiticiúil agus loighciúil go mbeadh an chumhacht agus an fhreagracht seo ag an choiste ghairmoideachais. Níl mé chun dul siar ar an mhéid a bhí le rá ag an Teachta Ring. Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá aige agus na cainteoirí roimhe. Mar sin fhéin, sílim gur rud mhaith agus céim ar aghaidh atá anseo.

An dara pointe gur mhaith liom a dhéanamh, the second point I would like to make, having welcomed the main provisions of the Bill, relates to the application forms for student grants. In July and August I and I am sure other Deputies and councillors are inundated with parents seeking assistance in the completion of application forms to apply for a single third level student support grant. The completion of it is worse than that of one's last will and testament. The applicant is directed to tick this and that box on the 40 or 50-page form, to skip the next page and continue on the following page and so on. It is a continuous source of amazement that we do not have the expertise in An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta and that the authorities have not been able to produce a two-page application form. They know everything about us now . We all have PPS numbers and so on. The authorities know our incomes, whether from social welfare benefits or some other source. Why after so many years has a simple straightforward application form not been introduced whereby applicants are required simply to fill in their income details from whatever income and submit the form? The task of the completion of this detailed form is a nuisance for parents and guardians. We are always willing to do our best to help our constituent but a great deal of sweat, worry and work would be avoided if after many years the authorities came up with a more simplified form.

Many of us met representatives of the USI across the road earlier. They were participating in the making of the union's annual submissions. We had an interesting chat with them. They come from different parts of the country and they outlined the difficulties they experience. The student support grant works out at about €80 for every week of the academic year. If one leaves home to go to college in Dublin, Galway or any other city, bearing in mind that having paid the rent for a flat or an apartment one must feed and cloth oneself, the level of the grant is grossly inadequate.

The student representatives gave us a table on tertiary education detailing the annual expenditure per student on core services; this is an OECD publication. The table lists 15 countries. At the top of the list is the United States with an annual expenditure of €17,700 per pupil per year. Below it are listed Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Austria and Brazil, which appears midway down the list. New Zealand, Finland and Belgium are also listed and of the 15 countries listed Ireland appears at the bottom of the list.

There is a strong correlation between expenditure in education and economic development. It has almost become a cliche that our Celtic tiger economy was due to the huge investment made in education here, starting with free secondary education in the 1960s up to the investment to present day. I do not dispute that for one minute. In terms of economic competitiveness, we are falling behind the rest of the world, including our competitors in Europe and in the Third World. We will erect economic difficulties for ourselves in the future if we do not continue to invest in education.

A Sunday newspaper, The Sunday Times if I am not mistaken, prints a league of world universities every year. It starts off with Harvard and then Berkeley and if it covers Europe, probably Oxford and Cambridge are at the top of the list. There is no reason Irish universities should not be in the premier league of that table. A number of universities figure in the first 200 listed in that league. If proper resources are not allocated to our universities, it is difficult for them to compete with world class universities. These tables are issued annually and if our universities cannot compete with them, it is a cause for concern.

My experience at university differed from the majority of people who had the advantage of going to college. My first third level college was St. Patrick's Training College and having completed two years there in the 1960s I went straight to UCD where I spent four years. I suppose the Minister went to Belfield.

Sorry, bhí sí i Má Nuad. Tá cuimhne agam ar sin anois. Bhí mo chara, an príomhoide i bpobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair, Noel Ó Gallachóir, ina cuideachta. If I may diverge for a moment he is still awaiting his halla spóirt up there. I know the Minister will be going there on 16 May. B'fhéidir go mbeidh deascéal ag an Aire fána choinne an lá sin. Má bhíonn, beidh fáilte roimpi.

I was fortunate back in the 1960s to have been teaching during the day and studying at university at night. The fees at that time were IR£20 per term. I do not know what they are now, but at least they have been abolished for students. There were two views on that issue. Nobody pays fees now. Third level education is free for everyone. Some still maintain that fees should be reintroduced for some students and that a person earning more than €100,000 should have to pay fees for his or her children and that such fees could be used for the benefit of university. It is a controversial area but it is probably one we cannot ignore, if we are going to finance our universities to ensure they can compete with the best in the world.

I do not want to repeat what has already been said, most of which I agree with, but I wish to raise the matter of continuing in education. Some people obtain their primary degree and then go on to complete a master's degree, which is funded as well, if the person qualified for a grant initially. Occasionally, those who complete a master's degree want to go on to complete a higher diploma, known as a H.Dip. However, they will not be funded for the H.Dip., as I understand it. In that scenario, a higher diploma is not considered to be a continuation of education. A H.Dip. is placed on a par with a master's degree and students can only receive funding for one or the other course.

I do not know if that discrepancy still exists but students from my area needed funding to continue their education but could not obtain funding for a H.Dip. because they had already received funding for their master's degree and vice versa. I hope I am right in referring to this issue. Perhaps the situation has changed. This is an area that the Minister could examine, having gone through the education system herself and qualified as a teacher. There may not be many people involved but to deprive even one person of the opportunity of continuing in education is wrong. It is worth examining the situation and rectifying it, if necessary.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Bille seo. Tá sé thar am go dtáinig sé isteach. Tá súil agam go mbeidh na soláthairtí ann i réimeas don scoil bhliain amach romhainn, 2008, agus ina dhiaidh sin.

We now have gaelscoileanna and gael choláisti and people who complete primary and post-primary education through Irish should have the opportunity to continue into third level in Irish. That option is available in Wales and I see no reason that it should not be available here too. In the past, Irish was a prerequisite to be a member of the staff in NUI Galway. That is no longer the case but we should not deprive students from Gaeltacht areas and those who have been educated through Irish of the chance of obtaining a third level qualification through Irish. There is a vacuum there. I know the Minister is favourably disposed to the Irish language. Is cainteoir líofa í féin. B'fhéidir gur sin áit ar cóir dúinn ár n-aire a dhíriú to rectify any shortage that may exist in that area.

I do not intend to speak for the allotted 20 minutes, although perhaps when I start, I will speak for that long or even longer.

I welcome this Bill. We have been continuously asking for its introduction in the past few years because there was such a clear need for it. All Deputies would like to see more provisions in the Bill but, nevertheless, the fact that it is regularising how grants are dealt with is very welcome.

As with Deputy McGinley, my own experience of student grant applications has been of people coming to me in desperation with a tome of pages to be filled out and finding it very difficult to work their way through the maze of questions. I often wondered if they would be able to fill it out at the end of their third level education, never mind at the start of it. It was incredibly difficult for people, especially on their first time approaching it, although it got easier in subsequent years.

It must be said that local authorities have struggled with the student grants area for many years. The local authority that I would be most familiar with is Cork City Council, which set two people aside every year to deal solely with grant queries. Those people were well versed in the legislation and understood the various categories in operation. They were extremely helpful to people who had difficulties. There were times when there were questions that I could not answer as a public representative and I would send people to the council staff. They were very forthcoming and if there was a way of obtaining the information requested that was not too much of an encumbrance, they would do so. That must be said.

Streamlining the process will be an advantage to the local authorities, the VEC, students and their parents. However, there are other actions that must be taken to support students. I have listened to all of the contributions in today's debate because this is an issue in which I have a deep interest. The notion of even contemplating the reintroduction of third level fees would be a retrograde step. I have regularly heard arguments in favour of such a move. However, with regard to most of the people that I represent, when something is means tested, it is usually people who are within the tax net that get caught. There are people in this country who can move money around, who have great wealth and still qualify for a grant. I am not one to argue that people should not get something because they are not entitled to it but there must be a tightening up of the system. The people who need a grant most are sometimes the very ones who are just outside the scope. They are the people who will be caught if fees are reintroduced. I do not care what level it is pitched at, they are the people who will be caught eventually.

Deputies also spoke about sponsorship of third level, which worries me terribly. Education should be about producing a person that is whole. It should be about producing someone who has an interest in all of life. I acknowledge that one must specialise at some point and I know areas like the sciences are particularly important. First and foremost, however, education should be about ensuring that people have a view of the world that is both questioning and inquisitive. I am not terribly concerned about sponsorship by public bodies but about businesses sponsoring third level education. They are doing so for a reason and with a particular viewpoint. They are sponsoring third level institutions in order to push them in a particular direction and that is not a good idea. I am in favour of people who have lots of money to spare giving it to universities. However, they should give to the universities and allow them to use it as they see fit.

There are now more people attending third level than ever before, for a variety of reasons. First, the economy has never been better and parents were not dependent on their children to go out and earn. Second, students do not have to pay third level fees anymore. If one examines the numbers of people attending third level now, in addition to what we always had, it is those who up to this point could not afford it who are now attending. Deputy McGinley is correct in pointing out that such people were not less intelligent or incapable of securing the necessary points. They simply could not afford to attend third level. The problem was not just the fees, but the entire support structure for students. Families could not afford to allow children to continue on in education.

There are a number of other issues which must be dealt with if we are serious about supporting people in third level education. The Minister must examine the issue of fees for part-time courses. The assumption that people doing part-time courses are working is false. They might be doing a part-time course because they have young children or because that is all they can manage at present. We should not assume they are all working and can, therefore, afford to pay the fees. Most cannot and this issue must be tackled.

Accommodation is another area of concern. If one were to visit University College Cork or the Cork Institute of Technology, one would find that, because of a lack of purpose-built accommodation, entire neighbourhoods are now rented out to students. The accommodation is unregulated and unsupervised and neighbourhoods have been destroyed because of it. That does not benefit either residents or students. Students like to be with their own peer group and that is as it should be. We were all like that when we were young. Students are entitled to good, reasonably priced accommodation in a safe environment. We do not have enough of that type of accommodation. A student accommodation board must be put in place to re-examine this issue. Major inroads were made into student accommodation a number of years ago through the section 51 tax incentives, which were very welcome. However, they are not sufficient. The policing of the scheme also needs to be examined.

The Bill is a long time coming but it is very welcome and no one will say otherwise. I hope it will be in place for the 2009-10 academic year. While I am preaching to the converted, anything relating to third level is time constrained. As long as the Minister delays, cohorts of people will go through the system who will not benefit from this legislation. I met an articulate group of USI students in Buswells Hotel earlier of whom we should be proud. They highlight what our system can produce but it could do better. Certain actions need to and should be taken.

I thank all those who contributed to the debate and who welcome the legislation. The co-operation evident will enable us to work closely together to improve the legislation on Committee and Report Stages. All of us recognise the need for the legislation whether that is based on our personal experience of people attending our clinics seeking advice to fill in myriad forms or wondering about their entitlements or through our dealings with the vocational education committees and local authorities. Members are conscious that many different agencies have dealt with grant schemes over the years and it has become a complex and difficult system for young people at a time when they must decide on their future subject and college choices. They are trying to get through their leaving certificate examinations and a great deal of pressure is on them at this time. For those reasons, we determined it was necessary to introduce legislation to co-ordinate the scheme.

One of the main questions to be addressed is which body would co-ordinate it and the House has generally welcomed the appointment of the VECs. When I made the announcement, it was widely accepted. It was one of the options put forward in the 2003 report, Supporting Equity of Access to Higher Education. We carefully examined this issue, sought submissions and engaged in much consultation on which body should be responsible. As the VECs are involved in delivering education throughout the State and administer one of the grant schemes, it was the logical choice and I am glad the House is appreciative of that.

However, giving this role to one body is not sufficient in itself. The legislation also provides that the body should have streamlined administrative procedures and the management of the grant should be subject to a number of criteria that must be met. If one is handing out taxpayers' money, one must ensure those who are eligible receive it while, at the same time, ensuring it is allocated within a timeframe in order that the students are recognised as the client in the process. It enables them to apply with one form rather than half a dozen, which is the case in some local authorities. Such administrative efficiency will be central to the success of this legislation. We will also demand timeframes. Members have outlined numerous examples of local authorities that are good while the neighbouring local authority is slow. The timeframes for appeals and the sending of cheques must be outlined. We all have examples of students living on porridge until Christmas before the grant came through. That is not right when people qualify for the grant. On the other hand, the local authorities and VECs have outlined examples of well educated young people who forget to sign the form, supply details or partially fill in an application form. There is a responsibility on everybody. When they fill in these forms to seek State support, we should all work with a sense of responsibility and reflect the education people have at the time they make the applications.

This will be the first major modernisation of the scheme since 1968. It will support students and their parents. Very often it is left to parents to fill in grant application forms when their son or daughter travels abroad after completing the leaving certificate. The new system will provide more clarity, certainty and accessibility. Hopefully, the completion of Second Stage will be another important milestone in the process.

A total of 56,000 students sit the leaving certificate examination every year while a similar number in higher or further education receive a grant and there are many reasons for that. The value placed on education by families for generations is crucial in this regard. Going back a few generations, it was a case of parents getting their children through primary school. The next generation wanted their children to complete second level while seven out of ten of this year's leaving certificate students will go on to higher education. That is a significant participation rate and a great success. In addition, many more young people are completing second level. The recent figures are encouraging with almost 86% of secondary students completing. Targeted supports for specific students, families and schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, help to achieve that level of participation. One is much more likely to complete second level education in Ireland than in most other OECD countries where the average completion rate is 77% and to participate in higher or further education. This involves a major commitment but great credit is due to families, teachers and schools who encourage young people and to the young people themselves who have the confidence and optimism about their future to take all these opportunities.

The grant system is large and difficult to administer and, therefore, it is important that we get it right. However, in recent years, we have experienced change. Members raised issues relating to nationality, citizenship, residency rights and the categories assigned to people newly arrived in the State. These issues must be considered in the context of immigration legislation and in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Both Departments are working closely on this to ensure young people who receive their primary and secondary education in the State are supported as much as possible. Meanwhile, we must warn against education tourism, where people move into a country to avail of free education and then move on. We do not want to become a magnet for that. It is a question of balance but I appreciate where Members are coming from.

We must invest in the potential of young people to enable as many as possible to lead us to an inclusive society. I watched the Taoiseach's address to the US Congress earlier. In his final words, he quoted the 1916 Proclamation and referred to equality of opportunity, speaking from one democracy to another. He referred to what a republic can stand for. Education is one way to ensure a socially inclusive society and, by facilitating as many people as possible to reach higher education, we are supporting not only those individuals but also wider society.

The implementation of this new scheme with the VECs will be important for administrative purposes, for management and for the education system, but particularly for young people themselves. I am encouraged by the manner in which the VEC sector is working with the Department towards a corporate approach on the issue. It is being recognised that the local service provision will remain an important part and Deputies sought assurances that this would be central to the Bill. We must also ensure efficiencies and co-ordination.

Deputies raised the issue of resources for the implementation of the new arrangements. The issue of additional staffing and resources which will be required to operate the unified grant scheme is currently under discussion between my Department and the IVEA through a joint steering committee. Included in the discussions is a development of a central IT system which it has been agreed will be hosted at a central location by the City of Dublin VEC. This will underpin the efficient administration of student grants across the country and ensure much greater consistency in the timely payment of grants to students, irrespective of the VEC area from which they come.

I want to ensure that with regard to the periodic reviews provided for in the Bill, the terms of the scheme are being applied equitably and efficiently throughout the system. The development by the Department of service level agreements with the VECs will be central to ensuring a continuum of high quality customer service to students and their parents. VECs are working very closely towards this aim and are anxious to facilitate it.

Besides the major local authority and VEC grant schemes, I refer Deputies to the European Social Fund scheme for funding of student assistance. Besides the importance of our European Union membership to the farming community, to industry and for investment, we should remember to give attention to the impact which our membership of Europe has had on education. Substantial funding has come into this country by way of the European Social Fund. This has helped the disadvantaged, those with disabilities and the lifelong learning and school completion programmes. We have gained substantial amounts of money which have supported very many students all over the country. The student assistance fund is one of those funds.

We still stand to gain over the next few years from the European Union by means of funding for such grants and for lifelong learning. Our students in higher education have participated fully in ERASMUS programmes. A total of 24,000 students have participated in this programme which is European-funded. It has opened up Europe to these students and they have been able to travel and gain experience. They have been able to go to some of the best universities in the world and other students have come to Ireland. We do not talk about this scheme so much in the context of Europe and yet we take it for granted as part of the education system. I hope that when people are considering our membership of Europe and are considering the Lisbon treaty they will also realise just how important it is for education. Another key aspect is working towards the mutual recognition of degrees and diplomas and the mobility of our young people which they take for granted as something that has been central to our education of young people.

Another issue that has become part of the debate and which was raised by a number of Members is the independent appeals process which many Deputies have welcomed. One of the issues raised was the concern that the time limit might be too long. I wish to reassure Deputies that those timeframes are the absolute maximum limits but we envisage that the majority of appeals would be considered in a much shorter timeframe and that the service level agreements with the VECs and the procedures to be set down for the independent appeals board will reflect this. If necessary, we can look at the wording to see if it needs to specify the maximum time. Either by means of the wording or the service level agreements, we will try to ensure it will be kept to the absolute minimum in the interests of students.

I acknowledge there will be cases where complex matters will need to be considered and consultation may be required with other parties including State agencies. It may be necessary to consult with the Departments of Social and Family Affairs, Revenue or Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or other Departments, in order to reach a conclusion on a case. Deputies will find that much of the latitude provided is designed to allow the student more time to appeal if necessary rather than for the VEC or the independent appeals board to respond. We are trying to approach it from the perspective of the student and to give them as much time as possible.

A number of Deputies have also raised the possibility of the involvement of students on the independent appeals board. This is a matter which is already under consideration, having been raised by students with my officials at a very productive forum on the Bill which was recently convened by my Department and the Union of Students in Ireland. I also met with the USI leaders at different events and also with the students' union in UCD which had some very positive contributions to make on this Bill and I am grateful for their interest.

There are no substantive changes in Government policy about the basis on which reckonable income of applicants would be taken into account. Any such fundamental change in the approach to means testing would warrant further examination, review and consultation. This arises from the debate and whether we should be taking into consideration land holdings or property. Deputies will also appreciate how difficult this can be once one starts going down that road. I am confident that the introduction of a unified scheme and the consolidation of administration within the VEC sector, together with the development of the common IT system, will ensure the consistent application of the means testing arrangements across the country.

A number of Deputies referred to issues relating to the eligibility requirements for grants. The provision of the main eligibility requirements will be by way of regulation and these issues can be discussed in greater detail on Committee Stage. My Department, in consultation with the key stakeholders, will consider all criteria regarding eligibility for student grants as part of the ongoing work on the introduction of a single unified scheme. Any perceived anomalies identified in the current schemes or in their interaction with the schemes of other Departments will be considered in the context of this process.

I have already clarified that this new scheme will not apply to students currently preparing for the leaving certificate. They will apply in the normal way through the local authority or local VEC in the same way as students did last year.

Recognising the support students need in this regard, the Department established a dedicated office called the national office for equity of access to higher education. This office works with the access and disability officers in third level institutions, local partnerships and community groups and student grant awarding authorities which all play a vital role.

We have also increased the number of scholarships available to students going to higher education. Traditional scholarship schemes included the Gaeltacht scholarship. The 1916 scholarships consist of a scholarship in the name of each of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation. These scholarships are very valuable, amounting to €6,700 a year, plus fees paid. This scholarship is awarded to a student for as long as he or she continues in higher education to do a master's degree or a doctorate. One of the nicest occasions I have attended this year was to present the Donogh O'Malley scholarships to students who are attending schools in the DEIS scheme. These are students from more disadvantaged backgrounds who have qualified under the scheme. There were 17 recipients from around the country who have received €6,700 a year. I noted the excitement of those young people who are all very bright and are pursuing very difficult courses but it was the pride of their parents which was something to see. One knew that the effect of this scholarship on those students would be much broader than they imagined because it would affect the younger children coming up behind and their whole community. It was really a wonderful event.

Deputies will be aware that from next September, there will be 100 scholarships sponsored by JP McManus. These will be targeted at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who can be in any school in Ireland. There will be a minimum number per county. This is a very generous offer by JP McManus who does not want his name on the scholarships. He is not one of these people who wants great praise or credit and he has been doing this for many years in Limerick in Sexton Street. He has supported those young men through college. They have also been provided with mentoring and support to help them through. These will be all-Ireland scholarships because they will be available North and South. He is investing €30 million which is a lot of money in anybody's pocket. He recognises, as do we all, the importance of targeting disadvantage in education.

I recently launched a comprehensive and user-friendly website, www.studentfinance.ie, which will be valuable in helping young people access information on the various grants available for further and higher education. I ask Members to point students to this website to access such information. It is funded by my Department and is an initiative of the national access office to which I referred. As well as providing information on the grants administered by the local authorities and vocational education committees, it also offers information on the back to education allowance, student assistance fund and the special fund for students with disabilities. This vast store of information will be of great benefit to students.

It is encouraging to consider how much progress we have made. Members referred to the achievements of Donogh O'Malley, which are now commemorated via scholarships. Reference was also made to the contribution of the second level education system to our economy. We are now seeing the value of having well qualified graduates. We would not enjoy the same level of foreign direct investment without access to the European market, the economic and taxation policies we have deployed and the existence of well educated graduates throughout the State. The role played by the institutes of technologies and universities represents a significant contribution to the economy. This is recognised in the national development plan.

Reference was made to the importance of the sciences. We are actively seeking to encourage students to partake of science and technology courses, but this does not in any way diminish the role of the humanities. Nor does it take from the fact that education must focus on the individual and his or her unique skills and talents. A good third level education will provide students with a well rounded approach. I always find it encouraging to discover the hopes, ambitions and dreams of students. I enjoy talking to them and advising them that they can realise their dreams and obtain their hopes and ambitions. They can be what they want to be and do what they want to do. There is great support from many sources for young people who are experiencing difficulties, including moral support and mentoring services.

This Bill represents one aspect of the supports we seek to provide for young people in pursuing their education. I am encouraged by the support of all stakeholder for this legislation. It has been widely welcomed and those who will have the responsibility for administering it are anxious to co-operate and to ensure the provision of good quality service agreements in the interests of students. I hope to continue to work with them to maximise improvements in the level of customer service and to deliver an efficient and cost effective system of grant administration.

I am pleased that we have reached the end of Second Stage. We can now prepare for Committee Stage when we can discuss any further improvements Deputies might suggest. The one point on which everybody in this House is agreed is the value of education. Higher education should be the natural aim for everybody. I look forward to Members' support for this Bill. Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis na Teachtaí a labhair ar an Bhille seo. Molaim an Bille don Teach.

May I put a brief question to the Minister?

That is out of order as the debate has concluded.

I have one specific question.

I ask Deputy Burke to be brief.

I am not sure whether the Minister referred to the position of part-time students in comparison with that of full-time students. Will she clarify that point?

The Bill's provisions relate to students partaking of full-time courses, in accordance with the current system. However, there is a commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a funding scheme for students undertaking part-time courses who have not previously accessed third level education. A pilot project which commenced in the current academic year in the Institute of Technology, Tallaght, will explore how modularisation might be supported. We expect to be able to expand that project further next year.

Question put and agreed to.