We have created a document that briefly outlines the Access programme, the restrictive funding available to students and the financial implications thereof. As a result, we wish to present our proposal of the educational supplement for mature students who do not qualify for the back to education allowance, BTEA, or the student maintenance grant.
The Access programme is designed specifically for people who may not have had the conventional educational requirements to enter third level education or who come from socio-economic backgrounds that are under-represented at third level or both. The course enables the students to acquire the skills, knowledge and confidence to compete on an equal footing with those students who enter university or institute of technology through the conventional entry channels. The Access course aims to provide mature students with the opportunity to prepare personally and academically for an undergraduate course of full-time study of at least three years' duration at a third level institution.
The criteria that must be met to be accepted on to the Access course include being from a socio-economic disadvantaged background, being the first in the family to access third level education or being in one of the targeted groups, namely, the long-term unemployed, the disabled, minority groups and Travellers. There are between 800 and 1,000 Access students entering third level education in Ireland each year.
I refer to the financial implications of the budget. Before the 2010 budget, the BTEA and the student maintenance grant were available to all mature students. The BTEA is the equivalent of a person's social welfare payment of €196 per week, which is a living allowance. The current grant level for an adjacent rate, that is, for students who live less than 24 km from their university or institute of technology is €2,545, while the higher rate of €6,355 applies for those who live more than 24 km away. After the 2010 budget, students are no longer entitled to receive both the BTEA and the student maintenance grant, which has made a huge impact on their lives. In April 2010, the then Department of Education and Science confirmed that people in receipt of illness, disability or lone parent payments are permitted to attend a course of study, subject to the conditions of the scheme, without transferring to the back to education allowance. Unfortunately, this does not include those in receipt of long-term unemployment benefits, who would be obliged to take up the back to education scheme.
Therefore, as can be seen, a student who is in receipt of disability or lone parent payment can apply and, subject to meeting the criteria, will receive the grant in addition to his or her social welfare payment. However, any students who are not in receipt of the aforementioned three payments must transfer to BTEA, which at €196 per week is the same amount as their social welfare payment. Such students also can apply for a €500 book allowance each year. As for other funding, the millennium partnership fund has been decommissioned and the only other option open to such students is the student assistance fund that provides financial assistance for students experiencing financial difficulties. These can include food, travel, child care, expenses related to family breakdown, bereavement and accidents. As for the long-term advantages of financial assistance for mature Access students, it would mean removing between 800 and 1,000 people from the live register every year. Moreover, when the economic upswing occurs, graduates will be ready to take their place and will be able to pay taxes. In addition, social inclusion for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds creates a redemption and lift focus within Ireland.
We have created a proposal, a copy of which has been provided to each member, that we have called an educational supplement for mature students. It constitutes an alternative to the maintenance grants for students in receipt of the back to education allowance. All the figures in the proposal are legitimate and have been sourced from the Central Statistics Office and other Departments. It is important to remember that although education is a huge issue for most people, this is especially the case for mature students going back to college or for those who never had the opportunities to go to college. It is difficult enough, when one comes from a background in which one never thought one could do this or lacked the financial wherewithal to do it, to participate in an Access programme. We have already received our places because we have completed the Access programme and know that we will get into universities and so on. Going there without financial assistance is not only difficult for most, but almost impossible. If there is time, we would like the committee to hear about our various case studies.