Written Answers. - Access to Third Level Education.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

397 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education the progress, if any, that has been made to increase access to third level education to students from disadvantaged backgrounds; if she will increase the maintenance grants involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16319/96]

The free fees initiative and the third level student support schemes facilitate students with limited means who wish to progress to third level.

It is recognised, however, that ensuring greater access to third level by students from disadvanaged backgrounds is not solely a matter of costs at third level. Fuller participation in third level depends on ensuring retention of students in full-time education up to the age of 18. To achieve this I have taken a range of initiatives. These include targeting of resources at first and second level in disadvantaged areas; the provision of educational support services for first and second level students including psychological and guidance services, career guidance and remedial teachers; the continuing development of the home-school links programme; a major re-structuring of the senior cycle curricula to adapt them to the needs of the wider spread of ability levels and backgrounds proceeding to senior cycle and the introduction of alternative pathways for students to progress to post-second-level education and training.
I have also supported the development of links between disadvantaged schools and third level institutions. These links are in line with the commitment in the White Paper which indicates that, "Each third level institution will be encouraged to develop links with designated second level schools, building on existing good practice".
Proposals specifically relating to disadvantaged students have been received from the university sector by the Higher Education Authority and discussions are taking place with a view to initiating a number of projects in the 1996-97 academic year.
It has been the practice in recent years to increase maintenance levels in line with inflation. However, in 1996 I increased the maintenance grant by 5 per cent which is over twice the rate of inflation.