Written answers

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Department of Education and Science

Higher Education Grants

5:00 am

Photo of Olivia MitchellOlivia Mitchell (Dublin South, Fine Gael)
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Question 99: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills to clarify her decision on the higher education grant appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 14; the grounds upon which this decision was made; if the guideline will be reviewed considering the criteria of independent mature candidate and candidate dependent on parents appear to conflict with one another in certain circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45119/10]

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Education and Science; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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My Department received an appeal from the candidate referred to by the Deputy. The candidate appealed the decision of the assessing authority not to award a grant on the basis that the candidate did not satisfy the break in studies requirement of the scheme. My Department examined the appeal and the decision of the assessing authority was upheld. The candidate was notified of the decision on the 19 November 2010.

The student grant schemes for 2010 were published in May of this year. Changes to the 2010 schemes were announced in advance by the then Minister when last year's grant schemes were published in July 2009. Advance notice of a number of changes was provided by way of press release on 29 July 2009, so that students and their families would be aware of them in good time. The specific issue to which the Deputy refers relates to how students re-entering higher education after a break in studies are classified for the purposes of assessing them for a student grant. This issue is governed by the break in studies clause in the student grant schemes. The break in studies clause generally applies to students that take a year or more out after completing an undergraduate course, returning subsequently to take up further third level studies. This clause provides for the re-classification of these students allowing them to be means tested on their own income and that of their spouse, where appropriate, rather than being means tested on the basis of their parents' income.

My Department increased the duration of the studies break requirement in the 2010 schemes from one year to three years. This was done because, in some cases, students who would not otherwise have qualified for a grant on the basis of parental income were simply taking a "year out" in order to avail of the break in studies provision. The break in studies clause as it stood allowed these students to be re-classified as independent mature students and to qualify for grants and fees based on their own, rather than their parents', income. This was not the intention of the provision. The intention of the clause was to focus resources on genuine second chance and mature students. The increase to three years will ensure that the emphasis is, as intended, on facilitating these students to return to education.

The new measures will not impact unfairly on any grant applicant but will ensure better equity and equality in calculating eligibility for student maintenance grants so that public resources can continue to be targeted at those who need them most. I want to be clear that this change will not prevent continuing students from re-entering college for three years. On the contrary, students that already qualified for a grant based on a means test of their parents' income in previous years are likely to continue to qualify for a grant on the same basis, unless circumstances have changed in the intervening period.

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