Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (399)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

540 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the options open to a mature student aged over 23 years who wishes to return to full-time education at degree level; the details regarding the availability of higher education grants to mature students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25380/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Financial assistance is available to students under the higher education grants scheme administered by the local authorities under the aegis of my Department. Generally speaking, students who are entering approved courses for the first time are eligible for grants where they satisfy the relevant conditions as to age, residence, means, nationality and previous academic attainment. An approved course for the purpose of the higher education grants scheme means a full-time undergraduate course of not less than two year's duration and a full time postgraduate course of not less than one years' duration pursued in an approved institution.

The higher education grants scheme operates under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. These Acts define a mature student to mean a person "of not less than 23 years of age, or such other age as may stand specified for the time being in regulations made by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, who have secured places in approved institutions and have reached that age on 1 January, or such other date as may be prescribed from time to time by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, in the year of entry to such institutions".

Mature students are categorised as either independent mature students or mature students dependent on parents. An independent mature student is defined to mean a mature student who was not ordinarily resident at home with his or her parents from the October preceding their entry to an approved course. Independent mature students are assessed without reference to either their parents' income or address for the purpose of the means test and residency requirements of the scheme respectively. Alternatively, financial assistance is available through the vocational education committees, VEC, scholarship scheme administered by the VECs under the aegis of my Department. The VEC scheme generally applies to students who already hold a certificate or diploma and are progressing to complete a degree course. Similar terms and conditions of funding as apply under HEG scheme are applicable under VEC scholarship scheme.

The local authorities and VECs assess applicants' eligibility to grant assistance with reference to the terms and conditions of funding prescribed in the respective schemes and award grants where appropriate.