Thursday, 4 March 2021
Department of Education and Skills
Student Universal Support Ireland
161. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if support will continue to be provided through the free fees initiative and SUSI grants for students that have to repeat a year due to the impact of Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12217/21]
Under the terms of the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is awarded to students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the prescribed conditions of funding, including those relating to nationality, residency, previous academic attainment and means.
The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the centralised student grant awarding authority SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) to determine.
To satisfy the terms and conditions of the Student Grant Scheme in relation to progression, a student must be moving from year to year within a course, having successfully completed the previous year or be transferring from one course to another where the award for the subsequent course is of a higher level than the previous course.
In general, under the progression/previous academic attainment criteria of the Student Grant Scheme, students cannot qualify for grant assistance or free tuition fees for a second period of study at the same level or for a different course 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 to obtain one qualification at each level of study. The Scheme operates in the context of competing educational priorities and limited public funding.
However, SUSI has disrection to waive the progression provision in exceptional circumstances in line with the relevant guidelines which accompany the Student Grant Scheme. Each grant application is assessed on a case-by-case basis on its own merits under this provision.
If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a student grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to SUSI. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by SUSI and remains of the view that the scheme has not been interpreted correctly in his/her case, an appeal may be submitted to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board within the required timeframe. Such appeals can be made by the appellant on line via www.studentgrantappeals.ie
Apart from the Student Grant Scheme, students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended. This fund is administered on a confidential, discretionary basis.
In addition, tax relief at the standard rate of tax may also be available in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax Office or from the Revenue Commissioners website, www.revenue.ie
However, as the Deputy is aware, the Programme for Government commits to a review into the impact of SUSI regarding the impact of Covid and this is currently underway.
162. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will consider including the pandemic unemployment payment received by students within the income disregard for the SUSI grant scheme; if his Department has conducted an analysis on the impact pandemic unemployment payments will have on access to SUSI for the 2021-2022 academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12218/21]
Under the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is available to eligible students attending an approved course in an approved institution who meet the terms and conditions of funding, including those relating to residency, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.
The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for SUSI to determine. For the 2020/21 academic year, student grant applications will be assessed based on gross income from all sources for the period 1st January 2019 to 31st December 2019.
The Social Welfare (Covid-19) (Amendment) Act 2020 establishes the COVID-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment as a social insurance benefit scheme separate from other social protection statutory schemes including the Supplementary Welfare Allowance and Jobseeker Allowance and Jobseeker Benefit schemes.
For student grant purposes the Covid-19 payment has been treated as reckonable income for the SUSI means assessment process since it was introduced in March 2020. This means that the Covid-19 payment is treated in a similar fashion to other Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection payments such as Jobseekers Benefit/Allowance, thus ensuring a consistency of approach and an equitable treatment of students and their families in the SUSI means assessment process.
All applications are assessed nationally with reference to the terms and conditions of the relevant student grant scheme. The terms and conditions of funding are applied impartially to all applicants. However, if a student or party to their application experiences a change in circumstances that is not a temporary change and is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, they can apply to have their application assessed under the change in circumstances provision of the relevant Student Grant Scheme. The income of all parties to the application will be assessed or reassessed on the current year (2020) and they may also be asked to provide evidence of the current year’s (2020) income.
The Student Grant Scheme and Student Support Regulations for the 2021/22 academic year will be published towards the end of March/early April 2021. The opening of SUSI's online grant application system will coincide with the publication of the scheme. Grant applications are submitted online via www.susi.ie. Further information in relation to student grant assistance is also available from this website. The telephone number for SUSI’s Helpdesk is 0761 087 874.
A review of the Student Grant Scheme in 2020 ( following the impact of COVID-19) was committed to as part of the Programme for Government. This Review is currently being undertaken. It will document the impact of Covid-19 on the Scheme and outline a number of recommendations for consideration by the end of Quarter 1, 2021.