In order to qualify for funding towards tuition fees, students must be first-time undergraduates, hold inter alia EU/EEA/Swiss nationality or certain permission given by the Minister for Justice and Equality 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.
Where students do not qualify for free fees funding they must pay the appropriate fee - either EU or Non-EU, as determined by each higher education institution. These institutions are autonomous bodies and the level of fee payable by students who do not meet the requirements of the free fees scheme is a matter for the relevant institution to determine.
My Department responded previously to concerns about the impact of the Free Fees Initiative eligibility criteria on Irish nationals who had, for occupational or economic reasons, to move abroad, requiring them to take their children out of the Irish education system in the process.
To this end, in March 2014 my Department requested the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to advise the higher education sector that full-time undergraduate students who:
- Hold EU/EEA/Swiss nationality but do not meet the residency clause of the Free Fees Initiative; and
- have completed five academic years of study (at either primary or post-primary level) in an EU/EEA/Swiss State; and
- commence their first undergraduate course of study in an approved institution here from the following academic year onwards, should be charged the EU rate of fee rather than the higher non-EU rate by their higher education institution.
Tax relief is available on fees paid and students can apply to the Student Assistant Fund for financial support if needed.
There are currently no plans within my Department to amend the qualifying criteria of the Free Fees Initiative.