Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Questions (219, 220, 221, 222)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

219. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a lack of awareness of immigration categories by colleges and grant-awarding authorities which results in misjudged refusals of applications for grants and the free fees scheme; and his plans to rectify same. [5076/14]

View answer

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

220. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the fact that non-EU nationals, despite meeting residency conditions, cannot qualify for free fees or receive the maintenance grant; and his plans to address this matter. [5077/14]

View answer

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

221. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to allow migrant students to change their fee status during their course. [5078/14]

View answer

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

222. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will allow non-EU students to pay their third levels fees in instalments. [5079/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 219 to 222, inclusive, together.

Under the terms of my Department's Free Fee Schemes the Exchequer meets the cost of tuition fees in respect of eligible students who are pursuing their first undergraduate course of study which is full-time and a minimum of two years duration in an approved higher education institution.

The main criteria of the Free Fees Initiative is that students must be first-time undergraduates, hold inter alia EU/EEA/Swiss nationality in their own right, and have been ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA/Swiss state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course. Full details of the nationality categories that qualify for free fees are set out in the scheme which has been advised to each higher education institution and which can also be viewed on the website 'studentfinance.ie' and this should address any lack of awareness.With effect from the current academic year a 'Change of Nationality' clause is included in the scheme which provides that, subject to meeting the criteria of the scheme, students who acquire EEA citizenship during their course of third level studies may be eligible for free fees for the remainder of their studies subject to certain conditions.

Where students do not qualify for free fees they must pay the appropriate fee as determined by their third level institution. The institutions are autonomous institutions and the level of fee payable by students who do not meet the requirements of the free fees schemes, and the payment arrangements for such fees, are matters for each institution to determine. However I recently requested that the Higher Education Authority establish and report on the practices currently operated by individual institutions in determining the fees criteria of students who do not qualify for free fees. It is hoped that a common approach across the sector can be agreed and that all prospective students have clarity about the level of tuition fees they may be required to pay.

Under the terms of the student grant scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students who meet the prescribed conditions of funding including those which relate to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means and any individual student must meet all of these conditions and not one alone. The nationality requirements for the student grant scheme are set out in section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011 and regulation 5 of the Student Support Regulations 2013.

Article 32 of the Student Grant Scheme 2013 provides for the review of eligibility for the award of a grant in the event of changes of circumstances in the academic year, including a change in relation to a student's nationality or immigration status. This means that where a student acquires Irish citizenship by naturalisation during the course of their studies he/she may apply to SUSI to have his/her application re-assessed.

In all cases, to qualify for either free fees and/or a student grant, it is the student, and not his/her parents, that must meet the nationality or prescribed immigration status requirements in their own right. The onus is on the student to provide the necessary documentary evidence as proof of their nationality or immigration status to the relevant higher education institution and/or grant awarding authority.