I propose to take Questions Nos. 657, 681, 682, 687 and 688 together.
The principal support provided by the Department in financial terms is the student grant scheme. Under the terms of the scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.
I want to look strategically at a wide range of issues related to the Student Grant Scheme, administered by SUSI, and that is why I recently announced plans to review the scheme. It is intended that the Review will commence before the end of 2020 and will report in Summer 2021.
Stakeholders will be consulted as part of the Review process. I intend to invite contributions from stakeholders in the student grant system via a formal submission process. These submissions will be considered in the context of the parameters of the Programme for Government commitments, whilst recognising that the scheme operates in the context of competing educational priorities and limited public funding. The aim of the student grant scheme is to make a contribution to the cost of going to college; covering the full cost has never been a feasible option.
The Review will focus on:
- Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the Student Grant Scheme.
- Review of eligibility and adjacency rates.
- Examining the future role of SUSI in supporting different forms of provision in line with national priorities, including postgraduate studies.
From September 2010, as announced in the Budget, all new applicants who are in receipt of the Back to Education Allowance (BTEA), and VTOS allowances for those pursuing PLC courses, are ineligible for student maintenance grants.
The decision was taken to discontinue the practice of allowing students progressing to a new course to hold both the BTEA and a student maintenance grant simultaneously as this represents a duplication of income support payments. This measure was recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes.
However, the cost of the student contribution and any fees payable to colleges for the students concerned is met for these students by the Exchequer under the Student Grant Scheme, subject to the means test and other grant eligibility requirements. A student may apply to have eligibility for same assessed by the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) by submitting an online grant application via www.susi.ie.
Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. 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. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.
In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may also be available in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie.