Written answers

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Department of Education and Science

Higher Education Grants

12:00 pm

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 48: To ask the Minister for Education and Science his views on allowing unemployed persons who already have a degree avail of the back to education allowance, free third level fees and the higher education maintenance grants, in view of the fact that many unemployed persons with third level qualifications or higher will need to receive new skills and degrees in completely different fields if they are to rejoin the labour market; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that persons on the labour market activation scheme are forbidden from availing of these grants; if his further attention has been drawn to the rigid requirements of most grant schemes which reject applicants who already have a qualification; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44067/09]

Photo of Seán HaugheySeán Haughey (Dublin North Central, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Under the terms of my Department's student grant and free fees schemes, students who are entering approved courses for the first time are eligible for grants and free tuition fees where they satisfy the prescribed conditions of the individual schemes, including those relating to progression.

In general, students who previously pursued a course of study are not eligible for grant assistance or free tuition fees in respect of a second period of study at the same level, irrespective of whether or not a grant or tuition fees were paid previously. The main objective of this policy is to assist as many students as possible in obtaining one undergraduate degree and in progressing, where appropriate, to a postgraduate course of study. Subject to the conditions of the individual schemes, free tuition and grants are available where students are progressing to a course at a higher level.

While I have no plans at present to change the current progression requirements of the existing schemes, my Department has been working closely with the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Social and Family Affairs to develop appropriate responses to meet the upskilling needs of those who are losing their jobs or facing uncertain employment prospects.

Under the labour market activation scheme, 2,500 part-time undergraduate and postgraduate places have been made available for unemployed people. Although the Maintenance Grant and Free Fees schemes do not cover part-time courses, students on the scheme are not charged tuition fees and are not required to pay the €1,500 registration fee. Postgraduate students may be required to pay a small charge.

Participants are also entitled to retain social welfare payments to which they have an underlying entitlement. The Back to Education Allowance (BTEA) is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and therefore, their prospects of returning to the workforce. Eligibility for the Back to Education Allowance and associated payments is determined and administered by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and is primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

The Government is anxious to continue to ensure a co-ordinated approach to optimise the opportunities for both school leavers and mature students to engage in education and training and will keep the existing arrangements under review. The scope to develop further responses is being considered in the context of ongoing discussions with other Government Departments on developing appropriate upskilling, training and education responses for unemployed people.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Question 49: To ask the Minister for Education and Science the action he will take on the current crisis within county councils and vocational education committees in the administering of student grants; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many students will have to wait until January 2010 to receive the first instalment of their grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44149/09]

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Cork North West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

My Department acknowledges that some students are experiencing delays in the processing of their grant applications. It is understood that both local authorities and VECs, the awarding bodies for student grants, received an unprecedented number of student grant applications this year with increases in applications up by 30% in some areas. In some instances, late applications are still being received.

Both VECs and local authorities are experiencing pressures due to the increased workload associated with the increased demand for the schemes, particularly in the context of the recruitment moratorium in the public sector which, in some instances, is affecting the processing of grants. However, every effort is being made by these bodies to ensure that students get decisions on their grant applications and are paid as soon as possible.

The current difficult economic circumstances have necessitated tough choices to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. This includes the need to implement a recruitment and promotion moratorium in the public sector. It is inevitable that staffing constraints on public bodies will lead to certain pressures on services. However, these bodies, even in these challenging circumstances, are endeavouring to ensure that the work associated with the processing of grants is prioritised.

Apart from the pressures associated with the volume of applications, a significant number of outstanding grant applications have not been processed in full because the applications were incomplete. I would remind students and their parents to return all necessary supporting documentation as early as possible to help the awarding bodies make prompt decisions on entitlement. I have asked the Higher Education Authority to request institutions to be flexible in respect of the payment of the student services charge for those still awaiting a decision on their grant application.

I am assessing organisational options for the processing of grant applications in the longer run with a view to streamlining operations and achieving more effective administrative efficiencies. Possible options for a more significant aggregation of functions are now being explored in the context of budgetary considerations and the Government's overall programme of public service reform.

In the interim, my Department is working closely with local authorities and VECs on a number of initiatives, some of which are already leading to administrative efficiencies and alleviating some of the pressures on awarding authorities. These initiatives, which will also enhance the level of service to students, include the provision of advance payments for student grants to all awarding authorities, migration of grant payments directly to students on a phased basis by way of electronic funds transfer and improvements to the grant application process.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.