Written Answers. - Student Support Schemes.

John Perry

Ceist:

495 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application by a person (details supplied) in County Sligo for a special rate of maintenance grant will be approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27490/01]

The report of the action group on access to third level education makes detailed recommendations concerning the introduction of special rates of maintenance grants for disadvantaged students.

The action group considered that the target group of "those most in need" could best be defined in terms of the child dependants of people receiving long-term welfare payments, in respect of whom continued child dependant allowance is being paid by virtue of their being in full-time education, that is, child dependants in the age group 18 to 22.

The action group recommended that the special rates of maintenance grant should also be available to mature students, that is students aged 23 and over.

In order to qualify for the special rate of maintenance grant a candidate must meet a number of conditions, one of which is that s/he must already qualify for one of my Department's ordinary maintenance grants.

The eligibility requirements for the special rates of maintenance grant will be reviewed on an ongoing basis with a view to extending eligibility. A first step will be to assess the coverage and effectiveness of the implementation of the special rates in this first year of operation.

The three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level students attending approved courses in approved third level institutions funded by my Department are the higher education grants scheme, the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees.

Where a student is already in receipt of a grant under one of these schemes, s/he may apply to the relevant local authority or VEC for the special rate of grant. Decisions on applications are taken by these bodies, based on the conditions and terms issued by my Department. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular condition is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student referred to by the Deputy.
If an individual applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused the special rate of maintenance grant, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC.
Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the conditions correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department.
Apart from the maintenance grants schemes and the free fees initiative, under which my Department meets the cost of tuition fees for eligible undergraduate students in approved institutions, financial support is also available to students, in approved third level institutions, through the student assistance access fund. The objectives of the fund, which is ESF-aided, 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 on a discretionary and confidential basis by each third level institution and provides direct financial support to disadvantaged students to assist them to remain on in college. I increased significantly the provision for this fund from £1.296 million in 1999 to £1.964 million in 2000.