Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.


620 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received a request from City of Dublin VEC to reconsider the awarding of a maintenance grant to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; when his Department will be in a position to award this grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7577/01]

City of Dublin VEC has been in communication with my Department in relation to the case referred to by the Deputy and has confirmed that the income in this case exceeds the income limits set down in the scheme in order to qualify for a maintenance grant.

The higher education grant schemes operate under the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992. Under the terms of these Acts a mature student is defined as a person of not less than 23 years of age on 1 January of the year of entry to their third level course.

As the student in question was not 23 on 1 January of the year of entry to his approved third level course he cannot be assessed as a mature student. When assessing the means of students other than mature students, the Acts specify that the students' means and those of their parents or guardians must be below a prescribed limit. Accordingly, the decision taken in this case by City of Dublin VEC is in accordance with the terms of the grants scheme and, as these are of general application, it is not open to me to make exceptions in individual cases.

However, it is recognised that these provisions can give rise to difficulties in individual cases. I announced late last year that I was setting up a special project team to carry out a comprehensive review of every aspect of the maintenance grants, and other student supports, to ensure their relevance to the needs of present day third level students. This review will include the level of grants, the methods by which they are paid, eligibility and income limits, accommodation needs, student support services, the most suitable paying agency, the provision of an appeals system, student loans and taxation measures.

Issues relating to the implementation of the team's recommendations will be addressed when its report has been completed.

Apart from the maintenance grant schemes and the free fees provision, financial support is also available to third level students through my Department's student assistance-access fund. The objectives of the fund are to assist students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise, due to their financial circumstances, be unable to continue their third level studies. The fund is administered by the third level institutions and provides direct financial support to disadvantaged students to assist them to remain on in college to complete their studies. I understand that the student in question has received assistance from this fund.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin


621 Mrs. B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals he has to assist people returning from EU countries or non-EU countries in educating their children in third level institutions by removing the conditions which debar them from third level grants; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that, while Irish people living abroad are being encouraged to return and work here, they are, at the same time, being penalised with regard to third level grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7591/01]

My Department's maintenance grants schemes and free fees initiative contain provisions relating to residency.

To be eligible for a maintenance grant under the terms of the student support schemes a candidate must fulfil conditions as to residence, age, means and nationality. To fulfil the residency requirement a candidate's parents, or, in the case of an independent mature candidate, the candidate her or himself, shall have been resident in the administrative area of the local authority or VEC from 1 October of the year prior to entry on an approved course. The local authority or VEC has discretion to waive this requirement in exceptional circumstances.

Under the free fees criteria, tuition fees will be paid in respect of EU nationals who have been ordinarily resident in an EU member state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to a third level course subject to certain conditions. This condition applies equally to all EU nationals, including Irish nationals, in accordance with the judgment of the European Court of Justice that access to vocational training must apply equally to all EU nationals. I understand that similar residency requirements operate in other EU member states.

Candidates who are EU nationals and who do not satisfy the residency requirements under the free fees initiative are eligible to apply for a means tested fees only grant in respect of approved courses in the Republic of Ireland, provided they have been ordinarily resident, for a purpose other than wholly or mainly to receive full-time education, in an EU member state from 1 October of the year prior to entry to college.