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.