Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Questions (114)

Joe Costello

Question:

137 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline the present regime of higher education grants; if he has any proposals to change the funding levels and the distance requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13479/11]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Skills)

In terms of regime, the Deputy will probably be aware that, currently, there are four student grant schemes administered by 66 grant awarding bodies (local authorities and VECs) on my Department's behalf. However, earlier this year, the Student Support Act became law. This paves the way to consolidate the four existing schemes into a single unified scheme and I intend that this will happen for the 2011-12 academic year. In addition, plans are well underway to replace the 66 grant awarding bodies with one single authority.

I have approved the appointment of the CDVEC to operate this centralised body on a transitional basis subject to the agreement of an operational plan with my Department. The single authority will be operative from 2012. It will accept all new applications initially. Existing grant awarding bodies will continue to deal with the renewal of existing grants on a wind-down basis over three to four years. I will also be establishing an independent appeals board commensurate with the provisions of the legislation.

In tandem with these developments, the on-line application facility for students and the payment of grants by EFT continues to be rolled out. Taken together, I expect that these developments will make it easier for students to apply for a grant. They will also ensure consistency of treatment of applications and the timely payment of grants.

With regard to funding levels, the Deputy will be aware that the student grant measures announced in Budget 2011 by the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government began to come into effect from January this year when a reduction of 4% in the rates of grant was applied to all student grant recipients. Further to this, budget measures that will come into effect from next September for the 2011-12 academic year will change the assessment of the qualifying distance criterion for the non-adjacent rate of grant from 24 kilometres to 45 kilometres and mature students will no longer have an automatic entitlement to the non-adjacent rate of grant.

I regret that given current economic circumstances I am not in a position to reverse any of these changes to the student grant schemes including that relating to the qualifying distance criteria for the non-adjacent rate of grant. I understand the concerns of students with regard to these measures and I will take account of these in considering any future changes as part of the budgetary process for 2012 and beyond, having regard to the position of the public finances.