Thursday, 19 April 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
100. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline the new and proposed State supports for access to third and fourth level education in view of the recent reduction in tax relief for qualifying programmes and the proposed reduction in direct financial supports in the next academic year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19723/12]
Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn): My priority as Minister for Education and Skills is to preserve access to undergraduate higher education courses despite the difficult circumstances in our public finances. As a result, no changes were made to the eligibility criteria for undergraduate students in Budget 2012. It is also worth emphasising that 41% of all undergraduate students currently receive a grant and pay no student contributions. Nevertheless, in the context of the necessary but difficult expenditure reduction measures announced in Budget 2012, new students entering postgraduate courses from the 2012/13 academic year onwards will not be entitled to any maintenance payment under the Student Grant Scheme. Existing postgraduate students will not be affected.
However, those students who meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant will be eligible to have their post-graduate tuition fees paid up to the maximum fee limit under the Student Grant Scheme. In access terms, the requirement to pay a fee is considered to be a greater obstacle to entry than lack of maintenance support at postgraduate level. This is why I opted to maintain the fee-payment ahead of maintenance payments for postgraduate students.
In addition, a further limited number of students who would previously have qualified under the standard grant thresholds will qualify to have a €2,000 contribution made towards the costs of their fees. However, there will be a new income threshold for this payment which will be lower than the standard grant threshold. The income threshold for this level of grant is currently being determined in the context of the formulation of the student grant scheme for the 2012/13 academic year. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees. Details in relation to this relief are available from the Revenue Commissioners.
In addition to this, the Student Assistance Fund will continue to be made available through the access offices of third-level institutions to assist students in exceptional financial need. Also the Fund for Students with Disabilities (FSD) provides funding to both further and higher education institutions for the provision of services and supports for full-time students with disabilities. While it is regrettable that any changes need to be made to student support, I believe this approach will continue to provide resources for a relatively wide number of post-graduate students and allow us to maintain the high level of supports provided to undergraduate students.
As you are aware a new student contribution charge of €2,000 was introduced in higher education with effect from the 2011/2012 academic year. This charge replaced the previous Student Services Charge (€1,500) and applies to all students who benefit under the ‘free fees’ scheme. The contribution will increase to €2,250 with effect from the 2012/13 academic year. Conscious of financial pressures on families tax relief provisions were put in place so that second and subsequent siblings will not have to bear the full cost increase.
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