I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, for taking this matter. The issue I wish to raise is not a transport matter but one that has created problems for people living in my area in County Kilkenny.
In the last budget announced in December the qualifying distance between home and college for the payment of a non-adjacent grant was increased from 24 km to 45 km. This issue affects not only people living in County Kilkenny but also others living in counties such as Roscommon and Leitrim. We do not have third level facilities in the county. The closest facilities are Waterford Institute of Technology and Carlow Institute of Technology. Perhaps it is time the south east had a university, for which the Minister of State might lobby. It is the only region that does not have a university. The problem is that Kilkenny city is within 45 km of both Carlow and Waterford; thus, people living in Kilkenny will not qualify for a grant to attend a third level institute. This has caused and will cause hardship for families in my area. Parents will either have to pay for transport daily, provide a car or transport their child to and from college.
Some 7,515 people are unemployed in County Kilkenny. According to CSO figures, some 1,283 of the people concerned are under the age of 25 years. A well educated young population would help in reducing the level of unemployment in the county. However, we do not have a third level institute and the rate of third level participation in the county is one of the lowest. In the most recent study of participation rates in third level education, 2004 being the last year for which figures are available, County Kilkenny was far down the league table of counties. The research study has found that the county ranked 19th in admission rates to third level, lower than County Carlow, and 18th in admission rates to universities. The absence of a third level facility in the county is regarded by many as a crucial reason for its lower than average participation rates in third level education. The changes to the grant rules made in the last budget are likely to have an adverse effect on the participation rates.
During the Celtic tiger years many young people might not have been interested in going on to third level. We had construction and service industries, but many of the jobs in these sectors have been lost. The only way we can help our young people is to educate them to allow them to become highly skilled. In Kilkenny, the problem is that the distance was changed from 24 km to 45 km. If one lives in Kilkenny, one must attend college in a major city — Cork, Dublin, Galway or Limerick — to get a full-time grant. One cannot stay close to home and go to, for example, Waterford Institute of Technology or Institute of Technology, Carlow. Will the Minister of State ask that the rule be examined?
In Kilkenny, 1,283 people under the age of 24 years are on the live register. Given the economic climate, we do not want this figure to increase because young people cannot access third level education. Parents are at the pin of their collars trying to educate their kids. If the grant is removed, the number unemployed will increase. Will the Minister of State consider reversing the change to 24 km?