My Department funds three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions: the higher education grants scheme; the Vocational Education Committees' scholarship scheme; and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees. The statutory framework for the higher education grants schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. The local authorities administer the schemes on behalf of my Department. The other two schemes are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees.
On the basis of the details supplied in this case, my Department is unable to confirm whether the student in question is in receipt of a grant under one of these schemes. However, the decision on eligibility for third level grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies refer individual applications to my Department only in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student, to whom the Deputy refers.
If an applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, 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 schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, the local authority or VEC, may in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department. It is not open to me, or my Department, however, to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.
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 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 in college.