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Written Answers - Higher Education Grants

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 765 No. 3

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 218.  Deputy Patrick Nulty Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty  asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn  the position regarding grants for postgraduate students in the coming academic year; if he will review the decision to end maintenance payment under the student grant scheme for students entering new postgradu[377]ate courses from the 2012/2013 academic year onwards with a view to re-instating the payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23834/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn The Deputy will be aware that, in the context of the necessary but difficult expenditure reduction measures announced in Budget 2012, new students entering postgraduate courses from the 2012/13 academic year onwards will not be entitled to maintenance payments 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 post-graduate tuition fees paid up to the maximum fee limit under the Student Grant Scheme.

Existing postgraduate students will not be affected. 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. My Department estimates that this will help an additional 4,000 postgraduate students. 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 currently being determined in the context of the formulation of the student grant scheme for the 2012/13 academic year.

In access terms, the requirement to pay a fee is considered to be a greater obstacle to entry than lack of maintenance support at postgraduate level. This is why I opted to maintain the fee-payment ahead of maintenance payments for postgraduate students. My priority as Minister for Education and Skills is to preserve access to undergraduate higher education courses despite the difficult circumstances in our public finances. As a result, no changes were made to the eligibility criteria for undergraduate students in the recent Budget. It is also worth emphasising that 41% of all undergraduate students currently receive a grant and pay no student contributions.

The Student Assistance Fund will continue to be made available through the access offices of third-level institutions to assist students in exceptional financial need. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees.

As the Government had factored in the savings from the changes in the student grant scheme to the public expenditure programme for 2012 onwards, I regret that I am not in a position to reverse or vary them.

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