Written answers

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Department of Education and Skills

Education Policy

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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387. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills his views on removing the residency criteria from the free fees initiative. [49597/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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In order to qualify for funding under the Department's Free Fees Initiative students must meet the criteria of the scheme including the separate residency and nationality/citizenship requirements in their own right.

In order to meet the residency criteria a student must have been ordinarily resident in an EU/EEA/Swiss/UK state for at least three of the five years preceding their entry to an approved third level course. All students are required to meet the residency criteria of the scheme.

The three out of five year rule takes cognisance of students who wish to take time out to travel or work abroad. Such students can still meet the residency requirement if they have not been outside the countries referenced above for more than two of the previous five years.

There are no plans to extend beyond the current eligibility criteria at this time.

Where students do not qualify for free fees funding they must pay the appropriate fee - either EU or Non-EU, as determined by each higher education institution. These institutions are autonomous bodies and the level of fee payable by students who do not meet the requirements of the free fees scheme is a matter for the relevant institution to determine.

My Department responded previously to concerns about the impact of the Free Fees Initiative eligibility criteria on Irish nationals who had, for occupational or economic reasons, to move abroad, requiring them to take their children out of the Irish education system in the process.

To this end, the Department advised that, with effect from the academic year 2014/15 onwards, higher education institutions should charge the more moderate rate of EU fee for students that commence their first undergraduate course of study in an approved institution here and:

- Hold EU/EEA/Swiss/UK nationality but do not meet the residency clause of the Free Fees Initiative; and

- have completed five academic years of study (at either primary or post-primary level) in an EU/EEA/Swiss/UK State.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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388. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will expand SUSI funding to graduate entry medicine. [49598/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Progression is a key tenet of the Student Grant Scheme and section 2 of the Student Support Act 2011 defines progression as "the process by which learners may transfer from one course to another course where the award that may be made on the successful completion of the second mentioned course is of a higher level..."

Students accessing graduate entry medicine will, as a matter of course, hold a level 8 qualification prior to entry and completion of a graduate entry medicine degree confers a further level 8 qualification. Students pursuing second degree courses are not eligible for free fees funding or for student grants, and therefore graduate entry medicine students have not qualified for these programmes since the introduction of this course.

In order to widen access to GEM programmes, and give assistance towards the financial burden on each student pursuing these programmes, the fees of participating EU students are partly subsidised by the State via the Higher Education Authority (HEA).

Institutions participating in the graduate medical programme have been requested to provide accompanying services and supports to facilitate the participation of disadvantaged students in the programme. Details of these services and supports are available from the relevant institution.

The Programme for Government contains commitments to, among other things, review SUSI eligibility criteria, adjacency rates and postgraduate grant supports. On foot of these commitments approval was given to commence a review of the Student Grant Scheme. The review is being conducted by external consultants. It is anticipated that the SUSI review will be completed later this year and will inform policy priorities for the next Estimates process and future considerations regarding the development of student grant policy.

Students on graduate entry medicine courses may be eligible to apply to the Student Assistance Fund (SAF) for financial support. The SAF guidelines provide that students with a previous higher education qualification at the same NFQ level, or who, in the past, attended higher education without ultimately obtaining a qualification, may be considered for support on a case-by-case basis and subject to available funding.

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,

In conclusion there are significant policy, legislative and funding considerations, as well as wider implications for other graduate entry courses, to the current treatment of graduate entry medicine course. These are subject to consideration, including as part of the annual Estimates process, as part of the ongoing consideration of student supports.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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389. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will amend the free fees criteria to allow students on graduate entry and integrated masters programmes to access it for the duration of their studies. [49599/21]

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Under the Department's Free Fees Initiative (FFI), the Exchequer pays tuition fees on behalf of eligible first time undergraduate students attending approved full-time undergraduate courses. In order to qualify for funding under the Department’s Free Fees Initiative, students must meet the criteria of the scheme including previous education attainment.

In this regard students attending a graduate entry course are not eligible for free fees funding, Students entering such courses are undertaking second degree courses having already obtained a level 8 qualification and consequently are not eligible for free fees funding for any periods of study at the same year level.

As referenced above, funding under the FFI is available for undergraduate awards only. In practice, this means that only the undergraduate portion of an integrated masters programme would be eligible for free fees funding. A full tuition fee is payable by all students for any postgraduate/Level 9 award portion of the course of study. Separately, SUSI grant support is available for those students who meet the qualifying criteria such as means, residency, nationality and progression. Different supports are available to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Qualifying students attending integrated/intercalated courses, will be initially assessed in respect of the undergraduate portion of the course. A separate application will be required in respect of the portion of the course deemed to be the postgraduate element.

Higher Education Institutions are autonomous bodies and are responsible for their own day-to-day management and operational affairs, including the management of academic affairs. They retain the right to determine their own policies and procedures. The total level of fees to be charged in the case of graduate entry courses or the postgraduate element of an integrated masters course are therefore solely a matter for the relevant institution to determine in line with its own criteria.

My Department currently has no plans to provide free fees funding for second degree courses or postgraduate years under the FFI.

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