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Other Questions - Third Level Fees

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 752 No. 2

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 10. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  if he will publish the new qualifying criteria for new entrant postgraduate students seeking to receive support with their third level fees from next year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2916/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Sean Sherlock): Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock In the context of overall necessary difficult expenditure reduction measures announced in budget 2012, new students entering postgraduate courses from the 2012-2013 academic year onwards will not be entitled to any maintenance payment under the student grant scheme. However, those students who meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant will be eligible to have their postgraduate tuition fees paid up to the maximum fee limit under the student grant scheme.

In addition, a further limited number of students who would previously have qualified under the standard grant thresholds will qualify to have a €2,000 contribution made towards the costs of their fees. However, there will be a new income threshold for this payment which will be lower than the standard grant threshold. The income threshold for this level of grant is being determined in the context of the formulation of the student grant scheme for the 2012-13 academic year.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith When does the Minister of State expect the final scheme will be available and published? Will the Minister of State indicate the number of postgraduate students in receipt of fee payment or maintenance grants over the past number of years?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock The answer to the second question is 9,435. Regarding the first question, I do not have a specific date but the review is ongoing.

[289]Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith Are 9,435 students in receipt of fees and maintenance grants?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock The most up-to-date figures supplied by the 66 grant awarding authorities show that 9,435 postgraduate students were in receipt of a student grant. The distinction between the two is not specified but I can come back to Deputy Smith on that point.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith Am I correct in thinking that 2,000 postgraduate students will receive a maintenance grant for the coming academic year? Will 4,000 have the fees element paid?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock In a full year, 2,000 students on the lowest incomes will meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant and will have their fees paid up to the maximum fee limit allowable under the student grant scheme. Another 4,000 students will receive a fee contribution of €2,000. The new arrangements will apply to two thirds of the postgraduate cohort on the lowest incomes, which is arguably a wider cohort of students.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe Zoom on Sean Crowe Has the Minister of State carried out an assessment on the impact this will have on the number of young people taking up a postgraduate course? I heard the point of the Minister of State about people on low incomes but in many cases people are in a grey area, which presents a difficulty. It will make it more difficult for people to go down the road of postgraduate study. Everyone accepts that. Does the Minister of State have any idea how many people will be unable to go on to further education? Has this been taken into account in the costings of this measure? There is also a human cost in terms of how it will affect people.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock It is like trying to measure how long is a piece of string. We cannot predict the impact of this in terms of exact numbers and participation rates. Participation rates at third level are determined by a myriad of factors and income is not the only criterion. Parental aspects, social and cultural factors, the level of pre-existing educational attainment, whether someone is in employment, whether someone has lost a job and a certain amount of income are other factors. One can safely assume it will have a negative impact but we do not know for certain and there is no way of measuring its impact. It is part of a package of measures the Department and the Government had to take in reducing spending. We are honest about that. We must try to ensure the student assistance fund, at the behest of individual institutions, is retained and that tax reliefs for postgraduate students are retained. Arising from these budgetary adjustments, the people who are least affected are the people who will be given the greatest chance to go to postgraduate education, namely, those who are on the lower income thresholds. We have tried to protect and preserve that.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith When the Minister has a finite number of postgraduate students who will be funded, what will happen to people who meet the income criteria but will be No. 2,001 on the list? I regularly read the statements of the Minister of State in his capacity with responsibility for research and development, where he speaks in glowing terms about the success of the major investment in the past decade in research and development. That investment has proved very successful. Many of the projects the Minister of State launched today are the result of investment going back some years, which create jobs for our people. Has the Minister of State engaged with the major corporations and major indigenous companies in getting more placements for our postgraduate students? The Minister of State knows many of the firms with successful postgraduate programmes and placements. If this could be accelerated and improved, with greater impetus, it might facilitate some of the people who do not qualify for assistance with fees and maintenance from September 2012.

[290]Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett Is it not the case that cutting the funding to postgraduate grants is the sharp edge of the disastrous situation over which this Government has presided? This will cut the education level of attainment at the highest level, which we need if this country has any chance of recovering. The Government talks on a regular basis about how we need to make this country favourable for investment and export-led recovery but we are sending out the message that we will have fewer people qualified at the highest level. The people who will not get the chance to reach that level of educational attainment will be those who do not have money. It is always the people who do not have money who get hit.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock That is a very subjective statement. There is no way of predicting the number of people who will apply for postgraduate courses, except to say that it is increasing year on year. Ironically, this increase is as a result of the loss of economic sovereignty. I take the point made by Deputy Smith in respect of interaction with industry. The research prioritisation exercise will be published and its purpose is to derive greater economic benefits from the research we are carrying out. There is a deepening collaboration between industry and academia in terms of research. I am talking to global companies that provide thousands of jobs in this country and I am talking to indigenous firms that want to move into the space of taking on board more graduates. Labour market activation measures, which will be launched shortly, will also attest to this.

In terms of the finite number, we must know the number of people who will apply for funding before we know the endgame in terms of the amount allocated. There is no doubt that the level of a person’s economic resources has an impact on the level of educational attainment. We are seeking to ensure we can fund those with the lowest incomes. A number of postgraduate research-based courses are funded by industry or through calls. We must also bear this in mind.

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