Written answers

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Student Grant Scheme

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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734. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will consider amending the Student Support Act 2011 to support Irish students studying within the EU who would qualify for SUSI support if they were studying in Ireland; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that third-level education fees are lower in most other EU states than they are in Ireland; the estimated cost of such a change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21438/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Under the terms of the Student Grant Scheme, grant assistance is awarded to eligible 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. 

In relation to support available for students studying abroad, the Student Grant Scheme provides maintenance grants to eligible undergraduate students pursuing approved courses in other EU Member States. Also, Student grant legislation was amended in 2020 to retain the status quo, thus allowing funding for eligible students attending an approved undergraduate course in the UK to continue post-Brexit.

In general, an approved undergraduate course in this context is defined as a full-time undergraduate course of not less than two years duration pursued in a university or third level institution, which is maintained or assisted by recurrent grants from public funds in another EU Member State or the UK. 

The student grant scheme does not and never has extended to the payment of tuition fees to institutions outside the State, other than for exceptional provision in respect of postgraduate courses in Northern Ireland. This provision is consistent with the principles of the Good Friday agreement and is intended to promote greater tolerance and understanding between both jurisdictions.  The Scheme also does not extend to PLC courses pursued outside of the State or postgraduate study pursued outside of Ireland.  

The extension of funding in this way would represent a major policy change which has the potential to impose very significant additional costs for the Exchequer.  Any such decision could only be considered in light of available resources and in the context of competing demands within the education sector. Accordingly, at present I do not intend to depart from the current arrangements.

In terms of tuition fees in Ireland, the fee payable by a student can vary depending on a variety factors including the type of course and the student's access route including previous education.

The State currently provides very substantial financial support to undergraduate students in higher education towards the cost of their studies.  This support has played a very significant role in facilitating access to and growth in higher education. What was previously the preserve of a relatively small proportion of the school leaving population is now much more widely available, as reflected in the current transfer rate from second to third level.

This commitment is demonstrated through the Free Fees Schemes under which the Exchequer provides funding toward the tuition fee costs of eligible undergraduate higher education students attending approves courses in the State with students paying the student contribution. The student contribution applies to all students on an annual basis, who are eligible under for the free fees scheme. The current rate is €3,000 per annum. Currently 60,000 students have all or part of the student contribution paid on their behalf by the State via the Student Grant Scheme.

Funding under the Free Fees Initiative is only available in respect of approved courses within the State.

The development of a sustainable funding model for higher education is essential in light of the centrality of higher education to our progress as a country. In that context, a comprehensive economic evaluation of the funding options presented in the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education is underway supported under the European Commission DG Reform Programme.   My Department is working closely with the European Commission and the independently appointed consortia of consultants.  The key aim of this review is to investigate methods of increasing the sustainability of higher and further education provision in Ireland, including an examination of the funding options. This review commenced in early 2020 and work is expected to be complete towards the latter part of Q2 2021. 

Tax relief at the standard rate of tax may be claimed in respect of tuition fees paid for approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU Member States and in non-EU countries. Further information on this tax relief is available from a student's local Tax office or from the Revenue Commissioners website www.revenue.ie 


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