Wednesday, 19 February 1992
Dáil Éireann Debate
20. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education if he will outline (a) when the review committee on income level for higher education grants will be set up, (b) the terms of reference of the committee and (c) the date by which it is to produce its report and recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Howlin: I was referring to the proposal to review the grant system applying to third level education. The Minister in his comments last night referred to this. In view of the statements by the Minister to the House last night that there was a problem, particularly for middle income groups, in relation to their ability to afford third level education, what guidelines has the Minister given to that committee and what measures does he propose to ameliorate this definite problem?
Mr. S. Brennan: That committee will not examine the income limit. It is a technical committee dealing with the criteria. Last night I announced that I was very conscious of the financial pressures imposed on the families of children attending third level education and I said I would conduct an urgent review of the criteria because I am not satisfied that  the higher education grants scheme as presently constituted is sensible or adequate. The grants scheme will be looked at between now and September. I will also look at the changes announced with regard to the ESF, but whatever emerges from that review between now and September will have to be practicable and affordable and the same rules will have to apply to everybody in the system.
Mr. Howlin: What specific guidelines or instructions did the Minister give to the review committee to address the problem he outlined to the House last night, that of the freezing out a section of the community, those on middle incomes, from third level education?
Mr. S. Brennan: I have not issued any because that working group will be purely technical and will deal with the assessment criteria. What I said last night was that between now and September I, and my Department, will look at the higher education grants scheme because I am not satisfied that as it is constituted it is very sensible particularly with regard to middle income families. I want the House to understand that my review will be on the basis that the same rules will apply to everybody and what we come up with will have to be practicable and affordable.
Mr. Howlin: In the light of what the Minister said, and his comments last night that the recent decisions were forced on the Government by limited funds, if the Minister finds a group of people is being excluded from affordable third level education, will he undertake to provide whatever funds are required to address that problem?
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