Thursday, 1 June 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
146. Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has satisfied himself that students attending colleges in Northern Ireland should be asked to bear the burden of exchange charges and currency changes; the plans if any he has to bring back the situation where Northern Ireland placed students would be paid the full grant in sterling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15753/00]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): Since 1996, the student support schemes were extended to provide maintenance grants to undergraduate students pursuing approved third level courses in other EU member states. Prior to this, grants were only payable to students who were pursuing approved courses in the Republic and Northern Ireland. In this context, and following discussions with the local authorities regarding the necessary administrative arrangements, it was agreed that students pursuing approved courses in other EU member states, including Northern Ireland, would be paid the value of the grant in the currency of the country in which they were studying and that the value of the maintenance grant to be paid in all circumstances would be the Irish value converted to the currency of the country in which the student is pursuing his or her course.
Prior to 1996, students studying in Northern Ireland were paid the amount of the grant in sterling, without reference to exchange rates. Those students studying in Northern Ireland who were assessed under the student support schemes prior  to 1996 continue to receive their grants in sterling, without reference to exchange rates. Students who commenced their studies from 1996 are paid under the revised arrangements.
In December last, in response to a number of representations, local authorities and vocational education committees were advised that grant-holders should be given the option of having their grant paid either in Irish punts or in the currency of the country in which they are studying. This  concession allows students studying in Northern Ireland or the UK to receive their grants in Irish punts rather than sterling if they so wish.
I am satisfied that the current arrangements are equitable and efficient. While I appreciate the current exchange rate difficulties with sterling, I am not in a position to supplement grant aid for students pursuing courses in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the EU. Moreover, such an approach could well give rise to anomalies and to claims of inequitable treatment between students studying in different countries.
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