Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Department of Education and Skills
Third Level Charges
115. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on Ireland having the second highest third level fees in Europe (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48274/17]
In accessing third level education in this State, students may be liable to pay tuition fees and a student contribution. Being cognisant of the financial pressures this can place on these students and their families, the Government provides assistance through a number of measures.
The Free Fees Initiative was introduced in 1995 by the then Government to assist third level undergraduate students in publicly funded higher education institutions. Currently, under the terms of the Initiative, the Exchequer meets the cost of tuition fees in respect of eligible students who are pursuing full-time undergraduate courses of study which are a minimum of two years duration in an approved higher education institution. The main conditions of the scheme are that students must be first-time undergraduates, hold inter alia EU/EEA/Swiss nationality in their own right, and have been ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA/Swiss state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course.
The student contribution charge currently stands at €3,000 and applies to all full-time students who benefit under the Free Fees Initiative. However, it is important to recognise that the State pays this contribution (or part of it) on behalf of approximately 43% of undergraduate students as they qualify on means-tested grounds for exemption from the contribution under the Student Grants Scheme.
Tax relief provisions are also available so that second and subsequent siblings do not have to bear the full cost of the student contribution. In addition, higher education institutions have provisions in place to allow students to pay the contribution in at least two moieties.
In addition, the Department provides financial support via the student grant scheme which makes means-tested financial assistance available to qualifying full-time registered students in higher education attending approved courses in the EU, EEA and the Swiss Confederation. Under the terms of the scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students on full-time courses who meet the prescribed conditions of funding including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means. In 2017 approximately €380m will be invested in student grants.
Higher education is a central part of our plan as a Government to support a strong economy and deliver a fair society. However, there is a significant cost to providing higher education opportunities and these costs have to be met. The most appropriate means of meeting these costs was considered by the expert group on future funding which reported to me in 2016. The expert group's report sets out a number of options for a long term sustainable funding model for the higher education sector.
As set out in the Programme for Government, I referred the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills. I look forward to receiving the Committee's recommendations which will assist in facilitating informed decision-making for the future direction of funding for higher education.
While the Committee are undertaking this important work, I have been working in the interim to secure additional funding for higher education. This commitment is reflected in Budget 2018 in which the higher education sector will benefit from a total investment package of €60m in additional funding in 2018. This funding is on top of the €36.5m that I secured for 2017 and which is being provided again in 2018. In total, we will be investing €100m more in higher education in 2018 than in 2016.
This additional funding will allow for targeted initiatives in higher education including skills programmes, performance and innovation funding, technological university development and apprenticeship costs in the sector. It will also allow for places to be provided for 2,100 additional students in 2018.