Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Questions (172, 173)

Joe Higgins


252 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will seek emergency funds for the third level education sector to maintain education facilities following direct and indirect cuts to the budgets of third level institutions. [6640/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

An amount of €630.5 million has been provided in the 2004 Estimates for universities and HEA designated institutions. I have no plans to provide additional funding to the sector this year.

From 1997 to 2004 there has been an increase of almost €300 million in the recurrent provision to the university sector. This represents an increase of approximately 90% over this period. Overall funding, capital and current, for the wider higher education sector will stand at €1.48 billion in 2004, up €631 million or 74% on 1997 levels.

I am aware that the universities will be challenged in the short term by the constraints on recurrent exchequer funding placed on them in 2004, having regard to overall cost pressures. I appreciate that individual institutions are required to find economies and to become more streamlined in some of their operations to reconcile available budgets with pre-existing demands and commitments. This must be viewed, however, in the context of overall increases in investment in higher education over recent years and the Government's longer term strategic objective for excellence in the sector.

On capital development in the third level sector, the Deputy is probably aware that the Higher Education Authority, at my request, is carrying out a review to assess the entire set of demands in all publicly funded third level institutions, to establish prioritisation and agree rephasing.

It is the intention of the review group to have a report submitted to the HEA by the end of March. The authority will then advise me of its views. I will then make decisions in respect of the capital investment programme for the third level sector in the context of the capital envelope of funds available to me.

While all major projects at third level remain paused pending the outcome of the work of the review group, the Deputy will know that I have made provision of an additional €25 million in the 2004 Estimates for the capital element of cycle 3 of the programme for research in third level institutions, PRTLI, this year. This allocation is a clear recognition of the Government's commitment to the programme, which will play a key role in developing world-class capabilities in research and innovation.

Seán Ardagh


253 Mr. Ardagh asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 who suffers from severe dyslexia, and provide them with the funding and supports they need under the fund for students with disabilities grant, to enable them complete their studies. [6641/04]

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The fund for students with disabilities provides funding to students with disabilities attending courses in third level institutions and in post leaving certificate centres.

The purpose of the fund is to provide students with serious physical and-or sensory disabilities with grant assistance towards the cost of special equipment, special materials and technological aids, targeted transport services, personal assistants and sign language interpreters. The fund operates on a discretionary basis.

Applications were submitted to my Department in October 2003, together with relevant supporting documentation, for consideration for funding for the current academic year. Decisions on those applications were taken by an ad hoc advisory group which, in 2003, consisted of representatives of my Department, a representative from the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, AHEAD, and a representative from the recently established National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education, within the Higher Education Authority.

The Deputy will, no doubt, be aware that one of the key recommendations of the report of the Action Group on Access to Third Level Education has now been implemented, namely, the establishment of the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education, national office, within the Higher Education Authority. The national office is now operational, taking over the administration of a number of access measures from the Department, including the fund for students with disabilities.

The student currently referred to was an applicant to the 2003 fund for students with disabilities. In this case it was considered that, while some assistance could be approved, insufficient documentation was supplied with the application in October last to approve all the supports requested. The student support unit of my Department advised the student in question that his application would be considered further in the event of more recent, relevant documentation being provided, through the disability officer in the third level institution attended by the student.

The disability officer in question has since provided further documentation and this has been forwarded to the national office for further consideration of the application.