Tuesday, 20 November 2001
Dáil Eireann Debate
503. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if the income thresholds used to decide eligibility for third level grants in the academic year 2002-03 will be based on the 38 week P60 income in the tax year ended December 2001; and the way in which the income thresholds will be set for the grant to take account of this. [29075/01]
504. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the index of wages and of prices normally used in the past to update the income threshold and the maintenance level of higher education grants; the monthly value of the respective index which has been used; and whether a different monthly value will be used in 2001. [29076/01]
In relation to the income thresholds prescribed under the student maintenance grant schemes, the practice in recent years has been to increase the reckonable income limits in line with movements in the average industrial wage to March of the previous year. Last June, in line with this policy, I approved an increase of 6.5% in the reckonable income limits for the 2001-02 academic year. I also increased by 6.5% the allowance by which the income limits may be increased in respect of other family members pursuing a course of study.
Similarly in relation to the value of the grant, the practice in recent years has been to increase the level of maintenance grants annually at least in line with inflation. Last June, in line with this policy, I announced increases of 6% in the rates of maintenance grant. The reference value for inflation is the annual percentage increase in the CPI to mid-February 2000.
For the 2002-03 academic year, reckonable income will be based on the short transitional tax year running from 6 April 2001 to 31 December, 2001. In general, for revenue purposes, all allowances, credits, bands, exemption limits and other annual amounts will be adjusted, where relevant, from their full year value to take account of the short tax year. Similarly, it is intended that the reckonable income thresholds, to be prescribed in my Department's schemes of student support for 2002, will be adjusted accordingly. The schemes of student support, with prescribed reckonable income limits, are normally issued in May-June of each year and it is intended that the issue of the 2002 schemes will adhere to this practice.
505. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if the Estimates for the cost of third level grants in 2002 has been based on estimates of the indexation in the income threshold and in the maintenance grant under the scheme; the change in the income threshold due to indexation; and the change in the maintenance threshold due to indexation which has been assumed. [29077/01]
506. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if other improvements in the value of third level grants, over and above indexation, have been built into the Estimates for 2002; and the improvements in this regard. [29078/01]
In relation to the income thresholds prescribed under the student maintenance grant schemes, the practice in recent years has been to increase the reckonable income limits in line with movements in the average industrial wage to March of the previous year. Similarly in relation to the value of the grant, the practice in recent years has been to increase the level of maintenance grants annually at least in line with inflation.
The Abridged Estimates, which were published recently, do not generally represent the total planned provision for public expenditure. It is normal practice for the Government to review and adjust the expenditure provisions in the context of finalising the budget and in the light of more up-to-date outturn figures. Moreover, the Estimate provisions are only the first stage in the process of determining specific allocations, improvements and initiatives across all sectors of education. This process is continuing and I will convey the necessary details as decisions are taken.
507. Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the rate of payment made to persons under the various additional support funds for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to encourage participation in third level education; if increases in these funds have been built into the 2002 Estimates; and the eligibility conditions which will apply. [29079/01]
Minister for Education and Science (Dr. Woods): The Government has provided £95 million under the national development plan for a third level access fund to tackle disadvantage at third level. Last July I launched the report, Access to Third Level Education, prepared, by the group which I set up in September 2000 to advise me on the development of a co-ordinated strategy to increase participation of disadvantaged students, mature students and students with a disability at third level. In light of the report, my Department has to date initiated a number of measures which provide additional funding to encourage participation in third level education.
At the launch of the action group in September 2000, I announced as an initial step, pending the findings of the group, the introduction of special rates of maintenance grant payable to disadvantaged grant holders in 2001. Recommendations relating to the criteria for the special rates of grant are set out in the action group's report and approval for payment of the special rates have issued to the local authorities-VECs.
The special rates, effective from the 2000-01 academic year, are £3,000, 3,809, for students residing over 15 miles from the college attended and £1,200, (1,524), for students residing less  than 15 miles from the college attended. The local authorities and the vocational educational committees, who administer the standard maintenance grant schemes, will assess candidates for the special rates of maintenance grants also. I am arranging for my Department to forward details of the eligibility requirements for the special rates to the Deputy.
In September 2000 I also announced a millennium partnership fund for disadvantage with a provision of £1 million in 2001. The fund is intended to build on the experience of the support scheme for students from disadvantaged  families, operated by the Northside Partnership, which assists students to participate in higher education. The action group's report sets out detailed recommendations on the criteria which should apply in the disbursement of the fund. Area Development Management Limited, under whose aegis the partnerships operate, has accepted my Department's request that it would administer the fund for the 2001-02 academic year. Guidelines have issued to the partnerships and completed applications were to be returned to ADM Limited by 12 November. Arrangements for assessing the applications, with the aim of disbursing the funding, are now well advanced.
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