I cannot comment, or pre-empt any decisions to be taken by Government as part of Budget 2020 at this stage, other than to assure the Deputy that funding for the higher education sector will continue to be a key focus for me and my Department.
The Student Contribution, which currently stands at €3,000, was introduced with effect from the 2011/12 academic year replacing the previous Student Services Charge. It should be noted that there has been no increase in the Student Contribution since the 2015/16 academic year.
Measures are in place to assist students and their parents in meeting the cost of the Student Contribution. Almost 50% of full-time undergraduate students have all, or part of, the contribution paid by the State on their behalf through the Student Grant Scheme.
In addition, tax relief provisions are also available so that second and subsequent siblings do not have to bear the full cost of the Student Contribution.
The Student Assistance Fund (SAF) provides financial assistance to students experiencing financial difficulties while attending third level. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Students can be assisted towards the rent, childcare costs, transport costs and books/class materials.
An additional €1m was added to the Fund in 2017 which is specifically ring-fenced for part-time students who are lone-parents or members of the other access target groups. Prior to that the fund supported full-time students only. €9.1million was allocated to the Fund in 2017/2018 which supported over 14,000 pupils. In December 2018 a further €1 million was added to the Fund for students attending Professional Masters of Education courses, who are experiencing financial difficulty. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended.