Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
49. Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department is considering a capital assets test for means test purposes with regard to the reintroduction of third level college fees; the reasons for the extended delay within his Department in finalising amendments for the Student Support Bill in view of the fact that it passed second stage nearly nine months ago; if the amendments will change, in any significant way, the thrust of the Bill or its detailed provisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12226/09]
Minister for Education and Science (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe): As the Deputy is aware, I am currently finalising a review of policy options relating to the introduction of a form of student contribution for third level fees. There are many complex and competing considerations including costs, affordability and means testing arrangements that will fall to be taken into account by the Government in considering the available options. It is my intention to bring proposals in this regard to Government in the near future.
In relation to the Student Support Bill, the Deputy will be aware that a number of amendments are currently being considered arising from a review of the Bill following the Second Stage debate and further consultations since publication. A number of legal issues have arisen in the course of preparation of the legislation which require further advice and clarification. The amendments which are currently under consideration are consistent with the purpose of this legislation, which is to provide for the making of student grants to enable students to attend higher and further education courses and its principal objective, which is to create a more coherent system for the administration of these grants to facilitate consistency of application and improved client accessibility. It is not envisaged that these amendments will substantially alter the current thrust of the Bill.
In light of the long-term policy objectives and a broad range of representations since publication of the Bill, my Department is currently examining whether an enabling provision for part-time courses might be inserted into the legislation. While the Deputy will appreciate that the current financial situation will not make it possible to extend funding to part-time study at the moment, it is recognised that it would nonetheless be opportune to provide scope in the legislation for the limited inclusion of part-time courses at some point in the future, should resources permit. This is a complex task which involves detailed consideration and consultation, both from the legal and policy points of view. The Department has asked the Office of the Parliamentary Council to consider draft amendments to the relevant sections of the Bill for the possible inclusion of part-time study.
A number of the amendments to the Student Support Bill are at the final stages of preparation and my Department is currently working closely with the Office of the Attorney General to finalise any outstanding matters. I hope to be in a position to have these amendments finalised shortly with a view to progressing to Committee Stage before the summer recess.
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