Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (362, 363)

Richard Bruton

Question:

471 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the allocation from the millennium fund to the Northside Partnership Company has been cut, despite the fact that the number of students in need of this support within the catchment has increased by over 15%; and if he will make arrangements to ensure that funding is restored. [1669/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The millennium partnership fund for disadvantage is one of a number of access measures recommended in the 2001 report of the action group on access to third level education. The fund provides assistance to partnership companies and community groups to develop their support schemes for students from disadvantaged families. Area Development Management — ADM Limited under the aegis of which the partnerships operate, administers the fund on behalf of my Department.

An allocation of €1.27 million per year was recommended for the millennium partnership fund for the duration of the national development programme to 2006. The recommendation was implemented when the fund was introduced with effect from the 2001-02 academic year. However, for the 2002-03 academic year, I significantly increased the allocation to €2 million. A provision of €2 million was also made in respect of the millennium partnership fund for 2003.

Northside Partnership received funding to the amount of €120,000 in the 2002-03 academic period from ADM under the millennium partnership fund for disadvantage, 2002-03. Previously the partnership had been in receipt of direct funding from my Department. I understand that in order to facilitate ten new applicant groups to the 2003-04 fund, ADM decided to make reductions in the budgets of partnerships and community groups across the board.

In the current academic year, 2003-04, Northside Partnership has a budget of €114,475, which includes a carryover from the previous round of the fund. Apart from the Cork Consortium; covering both Cork city and county, which received €145,000 for the current academic year, Northside Partnership received the highest allocation of funding under the fund, significantly more than other Dublin based partnerships. This was also the situation in 2002-03. There are currently 59 groups implementing the millennium partnership fund at a local levelvis-à-vis 35 groups which were involved in managing the fund since its inception in 2001.

Two other key recommendations in the report of the action group on access to third level education were the introduction of special rates of maintenance or top-up grants and the establishment of a national office of equity of access to higher education. Following a review of the special rates of maintenance grant in 2002, it was expected that the number of students qualifying for the top-up grant in 2002-03 would double to 7,000. This target was exceeded with approximately 8,000 students receiving the top-up grant in 2002-03.

In addition, last May I announced a package of measures costing €42 million in a full year to address the problem of disadvantage in third level education. The main provisions are: an increase of 15% in the maintenance grant, to give a maximum grant of €2,885, this compares with €2,510 in 2002-03; significant increases in the reckonable income limits for purposes of the ordinary and special rates of grant; the introduction of a revised income limit scheme, to include the following threshold levels, namely. a new part maintenance, 75% and full fees, an upgrading of the full fees only income limit to become a part maintenance, 25%, and full fees entitlement; the top income limit has been increased from €36,897 to €40,000, ensuring that a significantly higher number of students from households with moderate incomes will not have to pay the student service charge; and the higher, non-adjacent rate of the special rate of maintenance grant has been increased to €4,495 an amount equal to the maximum personal rate of social welfare unemployment assistance and the adjacent rate has been increased to €1,800. These increases represent top-ups on the ordinary grant of €1,610 and €645, respectively.

Following my approval for the establishment of the national office for equity of access to higher education, within the Higher Education Authority, a number of senior staff have been recruited and the office is now operational. I anticipate that the national office will facilitate the aim of increasing third level access by the three target groups, in partnership with my Department, the third level institutions and other stakeholders and agencies.

Richard Bruton

Question:

472 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans for the provision of special access funds targeted at disadvantaged pupils in each of the Dublin colleges; if these access funds are proving incapable of meeting the demand being placed on them; and his views on reported cutbacks in a number of colleges in respect of support from these funds. [1670/04]

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Since my appointment as Minister for Education and Science I have made it clear that addressing educational disadvantage is my top priority. It is my intention to ensure that available educational resources are targeted at the most disadvantaged people in the education system at all levels. My objective is to ensure that all young people leave the education system with a high quality education and related qualifications to support their full participation in society and in the economy.

My overall approach to tackling educational disadvantage is set in the context of the Government's national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, 2003-05, NAPSincl, and the latest partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, which contains a special initiative focused on literacy, numeracy and early school leavers. In addition to the ordinary maintenance grant schemes and the free fees initiative, my Department has responsibility for promoting access and participation opportunities for students in higher education and on PLC courses. Under the social inclusion measures in the national development plan, there was provision for a third level access fund totalling €121 million, during the period 2000 to 2006, aimed at tackling under-representation by three target groups: students from disadvantaged backgrounds; mature students; and students with disabilities.

The report of the action group on access to third level education, published in 2001, set out a blueprint for the development of a co-ordinated framework to promote access. The third level access fund comprises the following funds/measures: special rates of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students; the ESF-aided student assistance fund; the ESF-aided fund for students with disabilities; and the ESF-aided millennium partnership fund for disadvantage

Since 1997 spending on third level access measures funded directly by the Department of Education and Science has increased from €500,000 to €26 million in 2003. By any standards, this represents a quantum leap in the commitment of resources. The provision for 2003 is €27 million. This brings the total allocation on these access measures, including the 2004 provision, since the commencement of the national development plan in 2000, to €96.7 million.

The Deputy will also be aware that last May I announced a new package of measures costing €42 million in a full year to further address and ameliorate the problems facing students from low to moderate income households in accessing third level education. This package combines substantial improvements in the level and coverage of the maintenance grants for those on low to moderate incomes, with increases in the level of top-up grant for those who are most disadvantaged. I believe that this substantial package of measures will provide the opportunity, in an unprecedented manner, for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve their full potential in the education system.

The Higher Education Authority has for a number of years provided dedicated funding to the universities and other HEA designated institutions to support new developments in areas of strategic importance in higher education. One particular priority area is that of broadening access to the universities and HEA institutions for students from traditionally under-represented groups. These include students from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students and travellers. In 2002, the HEA provided over €6 million to support institutions in initiatives aimed at providing for such broadened access. For 2003, this provision increased to €7.4 million. In addition, in the technological sector, there is provision, from within the charge for student services, registration and examinations, for access funding amounting to approximately €500,000.