Priority Questions

FÁS Training Programmes

Fergus O'Dowd


1 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills when she first became aware of the need to review all FÁS courses across the country; the outcome of the investigation to date; the number of students who are likely to be affected by the investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47891/10]

I first became aware of FETAC's decision to place a hold on the issuing of certificates to FÁS on 18 November. I understand that FÁS, in the implementation of its new training standards system, discovered processing issues in the north east which gave rise to errors on requests which had been made by FÁS to FETAC. Certificates for 53 learners on six courses were involved but the certificates in question had not issued to the learners involved.

The errors arise from administrative processing and data entry issues rather than with the quality of the programmes. FÁS informed FETAC on 10 November.

FETAC, on 10 November, 2010, decided to hold the issuing of certificates to FÁS and is now conducting an examination of the processes underpinning the requesting of certificates by FÁS. It is doing so with the full co-operation of FÁS which is in agreement with this approach. FETAC is visiting each of the 17 centres that requested certificates and, as of close of business on Wednesday 15 December, had completed ten site visits. I understand that FETAC expects to complete the visits by the end of December and it will then consider the outcomes and determine next steps.

It has become clear as site visits have progressed that the issues encountered do not affect apprenticeship certificates or certificates issued under the construction skills certification scheme and that FETAC processing of these awards has recommenced. More than 1,300 of these certificates have now issued.

FETAC will be publishing a report of its examination which will outline any issues encountered and learners affected. I understand that FETAC will not be publishing outcomes in advance of the finalisation of the report. I can assure the Deputy that FÁS will address any issues raised in the FETAC report.

I understand that currently around 7,700 learners are experiencing delays of approximately three weeks in receiving their certificates. Every effort will be made to resolve any issues identified as quickly as possible so that learners can receive their certificates with the minimum of further delay.

I thank the Minister for her reply and welcome the clarification as regards apprenticeship courses and courses to do with construction to the effect that they are absolutely 100% in the clear. The Minister said some 7,700 cases are being looked at. In other words their processing is being held up. These relate to the non-apprenticeship and non-construction course studies. Obviously for FETAC to identify the need to do those 17 audits in 17 different locations meant that serious issues had arisen. My problem is that I have failed to get an answer from the Minister today, and from parliamentary questions addressed to FÁS as to what exactly the issues are surrounding these 53 people. I shall ask the Minister again. Is it the case that 53 certificates over six courses were requested, and either the persons concerned had not actually sat an examination or repeated an exam? We know that there were hundreds of cases in courses around the country where the results had been manipulated. Does that refer to these manipulated courses, specifically, or not?

To clarify, following on from the reports initiated by me and by FÁS as regards the issues that arose in the north east, a number of recommendations were made. One of them was to the effect that we would have to change the way in which we inputted the results. That new system commenced in September this year and is known as the new training standards system.

Another issue that arose was as regards the marking which was very complex and unclear. People either passed or failed unlike, say, in the junior or leaving certificate where there are grades as regards whether a student passes or fails. All of that work is being rolled out since September.

FETAC instigated its inquiry on the basis of the inputting, processing and administration. I am referring to the inputting of the results in order to draw down the certification. We all agree that the integrity of further education is enormously important and that is why FETAC has taken the decision to go to the 17 centres.

However, there are two different issues. This issue has arisen following an examination by FÁS. The other issue in the north east arose from a report arising from an investigation that was carried out. Unfortunately, those matters have not, as yet, been resolved. I have asked that they be resolved as a matter of urgency for the sake of the people concerned.

I have made a number of requests, having spoken to senior executives in FÁS and officials in the Minister's Department and others, in an effort to get answers to questions that have been outstanding for some time. I welcome what the Minister is saying and fully support FETAC's actions, as it is very important for it to verify and stand over all the results.

However, are any of the queries being addressed linked in any way to people being recommended for certification who did not actually sit examinations? Can she clarify the situation as regards the 7,700 outstanding certificates? Is it anticipated that the vast majority will pass or are there issues to be addressed in centres other than Dundalk?

In the main, these are not assessment-related issues. They are inputting, processing and administrative issues. However, I do not want to mislead the House since I do not have the full report to hand, as yet. It will be published and any issues that arise from it will then be dealt with forthwith.

As regards the 53 persons who still have not had the finalisation of their examinations, that is a separate issue. The issues pertaining to them are not the same issues that FETAC is examining.

What about the people who had not sat an examination or repeated an exam?

Anybody who did not turn up for an exam will not get accreditation.

My question is whether that applies to those 53 people, then.

This question is as regards the FETAC examination and I do not wish to mislead the Deputy or be inaccurate in what I am saying. However, I will revert to the Deputy and I appreciate that he has looked for further information. I have asked my officials to ensure that this information will be made available to him, forthwith.

School Patronage

Ruairí Quinn


2 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills if the way in which the patronage of the second post-primary school in Gorey, County Wexford was decided, will now be used on a country-wide basis in determining the choice of patron of the estimated 70 new post primary schools that will be required to meet the projected future growth in the school-going population; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47782/10]

The Deputy will be aware that in July this year I announced a significant reform of the process for recognition of new second-level schools. The new framework to be established will involve the setting out of clear criteria against which new second-level school applications are to be assessed and will increase the transparency of decision making, with the establishment of a small expert group to advise on second-level school patronage applications.

Our latest projections show an expected increase of over 67,000 post-primary pupils in the State by 2024. While this increase would equate to circa 67 new post-primary schools catering for 1,000 pupils each, in practice it is likely that the increase will be met through the expansion of a large number of existing schools as well as the establishment of new schools.

The new framework I am putting in place will provide greater clarity into the future, allowing applications to be made where there is demographic need and establishing minimum sizes for such new schools. The expert group, to be known as the second level patronage advisory group, will consider applications for new schools and make recommendations in regard to those applications, having undertaken survey work of parental views and using the criteria to be set down. I plan to establish the group very shortly and will seek its input prior to the finalisation of the detailed criteria and procedures.

In regard to two schools to be established in the near future, the new second level school in Clonburris, Lucan, will be formally established as a VEC school in partnership with Educate Together. I have asked County Dublin VEC and Educate Together to discuss the approach to achieving this with my Department. This will be the first time Educate Together will have a patronage role at second level.

On the new second level school to be established in Gorey for the coming school year, I recently announced that County Wexford VEC is to be patron of this new school. This decision followed a process undertaken by my Department, which involved a meeting with the prospective patron bodies, an interview with them and a survey of parental preferences in Gorey. My Department's report on the process has been published on its website. It includes details on the survey of parental preferences in the area.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Does the Minister, as outgoing Minister for Education and Skills, accept in principle that it is desirable to have parental choice in our education system? If so, does she believe this should be extended in the primary area where Educate Together has already established a clear position? Does the Minister, as a person with expertise in education, recognise that parental choice and, by implication, competition is a spur to good overall educational outcomes across the entire spectrum? On that basis, is it the Minister's intention to apply the model applied in Gorey to every other new post-primary school, in respect of which Wexford VEC was able to deploy resources of the order of €50,000 to campaign for a referendum outcome? Is this what the Minister is looking for?

I believe in parental choice. Arising from the survey that took place in Gorey, 65% of respondents expressed a preference for County Wexford VEC as patron of the new school, with 35% expressing a preference for Educate Together. The results of this survey were part of the decision making process.

The advisory group will be set up quickly. We have already set down formal criteria in respect of this process. Arising from the discussions that took place in Clonburris and Wexford we will finalise those criteria, which will be published. I do not agree with the view that parental choice in Gorey was not taken into consideration. It is also wrong to suggest that Educate Together had not lobbied or set up a group, either in Lucan or Gorey, to put forward its views or perspectives. If the Deputy comes to my office I will show him correspondence in regard to the considerable amount of lobbying and fundraising activities undertaken by Educate Together, with which I do not have a problem. I agree with the tenet of what the Deputy is asking me, namely, does parental choice have a relevance when it comes to new patronage. The answer is "Yes".

Will the Minister, therefore, not agree notwithstanding the mechanics of the referendum and amount of taxpayers' money that was spent by Wexford VEC, that she has denied parental choice in Gorey where there are now two schools under the one patronage? Here was a classic example of offering choice in terms of patronage, which is the issue. In this instance we are speaking of one of the largest post-primary schools in the country, which is functioning well. We need another school because of the population increase, which the Minister says will be 67,000 extra pupils by 2020.

In a town like Gorey, which is in the outer suburbs of the east coast metropolis, stretching from Wexford to Dundalk, the Minister could have given parental choice without going through this elaborate time wasting process. She could simply have acknowledged Gorey has one VEC at post-primary level, which is a good school, and could have given patronage of the other school to another body, Education Together which has a proven track record.

Gorey post-primary school is a community college and not a VEC school.

The patron is the VEC.

No. The patron is the VEC and the Orders. The existing school in Gorey is——

It is an amalgam of a number of schools.

——an amalgam of a number of schools that came together.

I gave a commitment to the people in Gorey that we would address their concerns for next year. It was on this basis a number of children were allowed to attend the school. I gave a financial package to the community college at that time in order to address its immediate needs. I also gave an undertaking in regard to the patronage, the appointment of a principal and to bring together a school for next year.

I do not accept the accusation that there was any manipulation of the parental choice opportunities provided. The competition between Education Together and Wexford VEC was open, in respect of which briefings were made available and people could put forward their proposals, all of which were excellent. The scoring of both bodies was similar. The decision at the end of the day was based on 65% of parents opting for VEC patronage.

We will have to build many new schools over the next number of years, in respect of which a variety of patrons may express an interest. It is for this reason I am setting up the advisory group. The chairman of the group, Mr. Frank Murray, was involved in adjudicating on the surveys, which were independently assessed. The real needs of the people of Gorey need to be met. For this reason, I have fully addressed the issues raised with me by the group when in Gorey, at which time I also met with political representatives of all parties. I was determined to deliver on the undertaking I gave and have done so.

Literacy Levels

Fergus O'Dowd


3 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills her views on the fact that literacy levels in Ireland have dropped more significantly than any other OECD country according to the latest PISA results; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47892/10]

Deirdre Clune


4 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills her views on the finding that Ireland’s drop in performance in maths is the second largest fall of any country in the most recent PISA study; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47893/10]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.

The results of the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment 2009 were published last week. The test results of Irish students were mixed. They scored above the OECD average in science, at the OECD average in reading and below the OECD average in mathematics. Comparisons take place against the last year the subject area was the major focus of the PISA survey. While Ireland's ranking in science between 2006 and 2009 rose from 20th to 18th it fell from 5th to 17th in reading between 2000 and 2009 and from 20th to 26th in mathematics between 2003 and 2009.

While I welcome the results Irish students achieved in the PISA tests for science, I am disappointed with the results in reading and maths. The extent of the falls in the reading scores of Irish students are surprising as Irish students scored well above average in reading in all previous rounds of PISA. The national assessments of mathematics and English reading also show stable literacy and numeracy levels among Irish primary students and standards have remained constant in the State examinations taken by all students at post-primary level. Irish students also obtained a high literacy-related score in the International Civic and Citizenship Education, ICCS, study, ranking 7th out of 36 participating countries in 2009.

My Department has had detailed studies of the Irish data for PISA completed by the educational research centre and by an independent team of experts from Statistics Canada. Both teams of experts have concluded that some, but not all, of the lower scores in reading and maths are explained by changes in the demographics of the group of 15 year olds taking the test. Greater numbers of students whose first language is not Irish or English are now in our classrooms, as are greater numbers of students with special educational needs. We are being more successful in keeping our children in education longer but this means that there are weaker performing students taking the PISA test that might not have remained in school in former years.

The experts from Statistics Canada and the ERC have advised that "it is likely that issues about the construction of achievement scores and establishing links, trends, across cycles of PISA contributed to the low scores of students in Ireland in reading and mathematics" and that the techniques used by PISA "have overestimated the size of the decline [in achievement]". The OECD also notes that the "performance changes are associated with a fairly large standard error". Few educational systems have ever experienced actual changes in educational standards of the size reported for Ireland over the period of time covered by PISA.

While Statistics Canada and the ERC have pointed out that Irish students' test scores have been declining in reading and maths, they have also have cautioned against placing undue importance on the single set of PISA 2009 scores. They believe that it is not possible to say whether the decline in the 2009 PISA tests indicates an actual decline in standards in Ireland.

Irrespective of whether the decline in the scores on the PISA test represent a real decline in standards, I am concerned that Irish students did not achieve high scores on the PISA tests. It would also be unwise to ignore the possibility that the results may reflect some decline in standards in Irish schools. I believe that our focus should be on taking the action needed to ensure that Ireland's students are among the high-performing countries in reading, maths and science. There is a need to improve Ireland's overall standards in literacy and numeracy and that is why the Government is taking a proactive approach to improving literacy and numeracy standards.

We have been concerned about our standards in maths for some time. A major reform programme, Project Maths, is under way and was rolled out to all second-level schools in September 2010. The project involves a major curriculum revision, a different approach in the examinations papers and a nationwide programme of teacher education for existing mathematics teachers. It also encourages more students to take mathematics at the higher level in the State examinations and aims to improve standards in mathematics generally. In addition, bonus points are being introduced for entry to higher education to encourage more students to study leaving certificate higher level mathematics.

In November 2010, I launched Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People: A Draft National Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools. This sets out a range of significant measures to improve literacy and numeracy in early childhood education, primary and post-primary schools. It will involve major reforms to teacher education, the school curriculum, a whole-school focus on strategies to improve literacy and numeracy, curricular changes and a radical improvement in the assessment and reporting of progress at student, school and national level. I am confident that focused attention on literacy and numeracy along the lines proposed in the plan will improve the standards of Irish students over time and their performance relative to their international peers.

That is a reply worthy of the Vatican.

This is the most appalling result for a country that experienced the Celtic tiger era. Is it not the case that for the years 2000 to 2009, Ireland has the worst outcome regarding literacy of the OECD countries that participated in the study? Is it also not the case that one in six of our students has significant reading problems, particularly males? A total of 23% of males have a literacy level below functional literacy, which means they cannot communicate in society. It is a disgraceful situation over which the Minister and the Government have presided for a number of years. What will she do about this?

There has to be a crusade regarding literacy in our schools. There needs to be a radical shake up in the political system and in the administrative system, particularly within the Department, and teachers need to be empowered to achieve the best results for all our children. The Minister is failing those who are most vulnerable. If 23% of all males cannot read properly, how in the name of God can they get jobs and compete with those in China and other countries in the Far East that achieved the top PISA scores? We are falling behind in this most critical area. What will the Minister do about this? Does she not think these results are a disgrace?

There is nothing in the studies carried out by the Department to show that socioeconomic issues are relevant to the outcomes. I will give a simple example of what has been happening. We have low levels of literacy because of the lack of reading material in homes, yet the majority of pupils had a television in the bedroom. The issue is what is prioritised, not money. Is it books or television? We will have to target our resources, including our teaching acumen, at literacy and numeracy. When it comes to professional development the new proposals make it compulsory for teachers to participate every three years and every five years in literacy and numeracy courses. I have also changed the entry requirements for those who wish to enter teaching at primary and post-primary level. I will insist that teaching degrees be extended to four years and they must comprise at least two years of education teaching practice. The H-Dip is not adequate.

I believe an entry requirement for primary teaching should be a minimum of a pass in honours mathematics as well as in honours English and Irish. It is wrong that the Department does not have access to the test results of every school in the State. The unions have opposed this ad infinitum. I do not believe in league tables because I do not like them. However, this is wrong and that is why it is compulsory that all the results from primary and post-primary schools be centrally assessed within the Department. I am, therefore, moving towards improved teaching qualifications and curricular change with an emphasis on literacy and numeracy and I will also pursue the curriculum from preschool into junior and high infants.

I would like to focus on teaching standards and refer to the draft report produced by the Minister. It states: "However, we cannot assume that all Irish primary teachers are proficient in the teaching of literacy and numeracy or that they continue to upskill themselves." That is a shocking and damning statement about the system. How much has been invested in teachers? They have spent at least three years in college, yet we cannot assume they are proficient in the teaching of literacy and numeracy. The report of the Department's chief inspector, Dr. Harold Hislop, states, "The teaching approaches used need to be addressed, the preparation undertaken by teachers——

The Deputy can refer to documents but not quote from them during Question Time.

Our system has not measured outputs, which are important. We are trying to pitch Ireland as a smart economy to attract investment. Average in science and below par in maths are not good enough.

A question, please.

In response to Deputy O'Dowd, the Minister outlined a number of areas where she feels teaching standards can be improved. Will she outline the timelines for their implementation? Will there be changes to the school year in 2011?

First, following the appointment of the new chief inspector, I looked at probation on the basis that it is too late to deal with underachievers in the system when they have 20 years experience. Teachers must be assessed in their first year as to whether they have the acumen and capacity for the work and to ascertain how they can be supported. There is a need for greater leadership in schools to support teachers. Second, I have changed the methods for whole-school evaluations in order that students and parents will be involved. Third, I am carrying out new standardised testing in literacy and numeracy and that information will be centralised. The problem was that these reforms were thwarted on the basis that people thought they would be an assessment of their capacity as teachers. That is not the position; it is about having information in order that we can deal with specific problems that may arise in a school in the delivery of the literacy and numeracy programmes.

In addition, teachers on probation will have to take a specified number of hours in their first year in the teacher education centres. The centres are a significant resource and this will provide for better professional competence and development.

When will all this happen?

It is happening now because I am driving it. As a parent and as someone who has a great regard for the teaching profession, we must not be seen to undermine it. I agree with Deputy Clune that we must analyse the outputs and we are undertaking other reforms in curriculum development.

Is it not a fact that the Government's economic, health and education policies are an abject failure? The education policy is an appalling failure and it is the worst of all OECD countries. Did the Minister say more people are staying in school longer and that is the reason they are not reading as much?

Is it not a fact that in 2000, students up to 15 years of age were compelled to attend school, as is the case at present? There is no difference in the year. This test takes place when they are 15 years of age. All students of 15 years of age are tested in this so it is wrong to claim that more students are staying in school. They must stay in school until that age. Is it not a fact that the Minister does not have a strategy for dealing with it? Does she not believe an all-out battle or crusade is required to ensure our young people can read as well as anybody else, particularly somebody in the Far East?

The Minister's information technology policy is a big failure, with only 2% of schools having high speed broadband. She must address that. Finally, does she agree with empowering school principals to deal with literacy? In other words, would she not consider selecting school principals who wish to be trained in functional literacy, how to teach it and how to improve skills and standards for their staff as something she could do immediately?

With regard to the changes the Minister proposes to make in teaching standards, is it the case that from next September students who start teacher training colleges will have an expanded programme? Will she also implement a professional development programme for teachers from next September?

That is clearly my intention.

Is it the Minister's intention or policy?

That depends on how long I will be on this side of the House. The plan has been sent out for consultation, which should be completed by now. These changes must take place in the delivery of this plan. There is no reason that they should not.

Is it the draft plan?

Yes. I propose to proceed immediately with the development of that plan. It is wrong to say there have not been great achievements in education.

Nobody is saying that.

The DEIS initiative has resulted in more children staying longer at school. There are fewer school drop-outs, which is good. There is better integrated education, which is excellent. It is accepted that we have experienced changes in our demographics, culture and society. During that PISA process, three other international studies were carried out and a number of those young people were in transition year, where I do not believe there was great regard for the test in the first place. There must also be a realisation on the part of the schools. As Deputies are aware, it is a random sample so we have no idea what schools are involved in the sampling. However, we must take on board the necessity of ensuring that the PISA test is taken seriously by the schools. That is important. The development of new policies that are focused on literacy, numeracy and mathematics is paramount from my perspective.

There will also be reform in the junior certificate. We are moving away from rote learning to critical thinking. This is one of the issues that have arisen from the PISA study. I do not know if the Deputies had an opportunity to look at the examination but it requires more critical thinking and more thought processing than children are, perhaps, accustomed to.

Higher Education Grants

Ulick Burke


5 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills the number of students that will be impacted by the change to the student grant criteria; the number of students who will lose eligibility as a result of the change to the adjacent rate; her views that this will act as an impediment to persons trying to upskill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47894/10]

The allocation for student grants in 2011 is just over €385 million. This is an increase of some 5% or €18 million over the 2010 provision. Increases in the number of students qualifying for grants, increases in proportions now qualifying for higher rates of grants as well as the introduction of the student contribution paid on behalf of grant-holders each account for additional cost pressures in 2011. In order to manage these cost pressures, a number of savings measures are necessary in 2011. The measures announced will deliver overall savings of some €22 million, which has been taken into account in the 2011 provision.

A 4% reduction across the board in the rates of student grant is to be implemented for all grant-holders from January 2011. This is in line with reductions in other income maintenance payments, including those for the unemployed, and will yield an estimated saving of some €8 million. The qualifying distance criterion for entitlement to the higher non-adjacent rate of grant is to be extended from 24 km to 45 km. The existing distance has been in place since the grant schemes were introduced in 1968. Vastly improved transport facilities and road networks and better and more cost effective travelling options have altered commuting practice more generally in society over that time. Statistics indicate that some 45% of all full-time students now choose to live in their own or their parents' home during term time, yet some 77% of grant holders are currently on the higher non-adjacent rate.

The new measure will come into effect from September 2011 and will affect an estimated 18,000 students. A savings yield of some €10 million is estimated in 2011, will a full-year saving of some €30 million. The automatic eligibility of mature students for the higher non-adjacent rate of grant is to be removed from the start of the 2011/12 academic year. Mature students who reside 45 km or more from their higher education institution will continue to be eligible for the higher non-adjacent rate of grant. It is estimated that some 6,900 mature students will be impacted by this measure. The estimated projected saving is €4 million in 2011, with a full year saving of some €13 million.

While the measures outlined will result in changes to the rate of grant payable, none of the measures will result in a student losing a grant or becoming ineligible for a grant. In fact, as a result of the introduction of an additional category of eligibility for support — permitting students to qualify for 50% student contribution' — approximately 2,000 families will benefit under this revised arrangement. This progressive measure will mean that where family income is marginally in excess of the current eligibility levels for maintenance grant support, only 50% of the student contribution or €1,000, will have to be paid, rather than the €1,500 student service charge a student may be liable for under the current arrangements.

This is a cost-cutting exercise. The Minister referred to increasing numbers and the grants. She has already reduced the grants across the board by 4% and now she says that due to the numbers factor she must curtail them. She has introduced two changes, in particular, that relate to mature students. They totally contradict what the Government has been saying for so long about upskilling for people who have lost their jobs or whatever and are returning to education. A total of 7,000 of those people will lose out substantially as a result of these changes. They were automatically entitled to the non-adjacent grant.

Second, there is the issue of the increase of the distance from the college for the adjacent and non-adjacent grants, which will affect 18,000 students. Is the Minister expecting students to live at home? She said 45% of students live in their homes during the term. Does she expect them to make a round trip of 90 km per day to go to college as a result of the extension from 24 km to 45 km?

First, if one has an entitlement to a grant, that entitlement will continue. The determination will be whether one is entitled to the higher non-adjacent grant or the adjacent grant. If one has a non-adjacent grant at present and one is now outside that criterion, one will continue to have access to the adjacent grant. Second, there is the issue that mature students received the higher non-adjacent grant, regardless of where they lived even if it was beside the college.

Third, the financial situation of the country is such that we are not in a position to escape savings in the Department of Education and Skills. We had to prioritise mainstream classroom teaching and, to the best of our ability, deal with the demographic issue. There is, correctly, an increase in our third level student population. We must ensure good quality of education and outcome at third level. Furthermore, the capacity of the State to continue to fund third level education is now stretched and we must examine new ways of doing it.

I accept what the Deputy is saying but it is important to assure people that they will not lose the grant if they are eligible for it. The issue is the type of grant for which they are eligible.

Approximately 25,000 students will lose out, to the extent of between €1,500 and €3,500 depending on the category of grant. That is a serious blow, and the Minister is not serious about it. When will the Minister publish the Hunt report? If there is a serious problem, why has she not introduced the replacement of these grants, as was promised? It is awaiting introduction but the Minister dillydallied. The easiest thing to do was cut, and 25,000 students will lose out, some very substantially. It is obvious that these will drop out. The killing part of it is that the Minister is implementing from next September the commitment that they entered into originally, but not for the students who are entering now. That is a serious withdrawal and a contract with the Minister has been broken.

The Fine Gael Party has proposed that it will introduce fees on a full cost basis. The Hunt report will be published at the beginning of the new year. I had hoped to have it last week, but unfortunately we do not have enough to prepare for the launching of the report, so I will do it in the beginning of the new year. We will all have to look at how we are going to sustain financially third level education. That is the harsh reality of it. There must be new ways in which income can be obtained for colleges and universities through internationalisation and through some type of student contribution.

On the student contribution side, I have put a cap on the contribution on each household, depending on how many young people are attending college, and I have introduced a new category within the student maintenance grant scheme that 50% of the contribution will also be paid. It was a matter of taking the resources that I have and using them to the best of my ability. We have seen an increase of almost €18 million on the student maintenance scheme.

That concludes Priority Questions. We must now move on to Other Questions.