Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Seanad Éireann Debate
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit anseo. Tá mé ag ardú ceiste a bhaineann leis an Roinn Oideachais. Tuigimid go bhfuil ciorruithe ar siúl agus go bhfuil sé tábhachtach beart a dhéanamh de réir briathar ó thaobh airgeadais de agus déileáil go cothrom ó thaobh buiséad agus mar sin de ach ag an am a bhfuil na ciorruithe seo ag tarlú, tá sé níos tábhachtaí ná riamh go mbeadh sparántachtaí agus tacaíocht ar fáil do dhaoine éagsúla le dul i mbun cúrsaí ollscoile. Go stairiúil bhí sraith de sparántachtaí le fáil faoin Roinn Oideachais, na sparántachtaí teoranta, na sparántachtaí neamh-teoranta, sparantachtaí Gaeltachta agus sparantachtaí Sheachtain na Cásca 1916 agus sparántachtaí Donogh O’Malley. An cheist atá agam don Aire ná cén luach a bhí leis na sparántachtaí sin le roinnt blianta anuas, cé mhéad díofa a bronnadh agus cá seasann siad ag an bpointe seo?
I welcome the Minister of State. The issue is one for the Department of Education and Skills and concerns third level scholarships. We have had an illustrious history of providing scholarships through the Department for various reasons. However, times are tough and I seek clarification on the scholarship schemes in existence. I am aware of five — the limited, unlimited, Gaeltacht, Easter week and Donogh O’Malley scholarships which are awarded for different reasons to student who show great skill in the work they are doing in school or do particularly well in their examinations. What was the value of these scholarships? How many of them have been awarded and what are the future intention for them? In these financially difficult times it is more important than ever that we have very good scholarship schemes available to act as a great incentive for young leaving certificate students to try harder, do better and pick up a scholarship to allow them to proceed to third level to complete their education.
Deputy John Perry: I thank the Senator for raising the issue of the need for the Minister for Education and Skills to make a statement on the future of the important third level scholarship schemes known as the unlimited, limited, Gaeltacht, Easter week and Donogh O’Malley scholarships. I am grateful to have the opportunity to outline the changes to the schemes and refer to the introduction of the new bursary scheme.
As the Senator is aware, in addition to the student grants scheme, the Department of Education and Skills also operates a number of scholarship schemes to assist students at third level. Each year undergraduate scholarships are available from the Department through five scholarship schemes, namely, the Easter week 1916 commemoration scholarship scheme, an scéim scoláireachtaí tríú leibhéal do scoláirí on nGaeltacht, an scéim scoláireachtaí Gaeilge tríú leibhéal (neamh theoranta), an scéim scoláireachtaí tríú leibhéal (trí Ghaeilge: teoranta) and the Donogh O’Malley scholarship scheme.
The total number of new students awarded scholarships under the five scholarships schemes for the 2011-12 academic year was 60. The value of the Easter week and Donogh O’Malley scholarships in the 2011-12 academic year is €6,053. The three Irish scheme scholarships are awarded at two rates, the adjacent and non-adjacent rates which for the 2011-12 academic year are €1,230 and €3,067, respectively. The total allocation for these schemes in the 2012 financial year is some €1.7 million.
The Senator has referred to a commitment announced in budget 2012 to replace the five scholarship schemes for higher education with a new scheme of bursaries. The current scholarships, with one exception, were awarded without the application of socioeconomic criteria. The new bursaries, on the other hand, are designed specifically to target students attending DEIS schools in disadvantaged areas and also indicating a level of personal or family disadvantage by virtue of having qualified for a medical card. Awards will be made regionally on the basis of the leaving certificate examination results achieved by the students. The awards under the new scheme will be fixed at €2,000 per student per year and recipients will also be entitled to apply for student grants towards the cost of maintenance and the student contribution or fees. The bursary will be an extra support and incentive to recognise high achievement for such students.
It is envisaged that some 60 students will receive a bursary this September. This number will rise in each of the next three years, with over 350 students a year benefiting by 2015. This change has been made to make the best use of scarce resources so as to focus on the best performing students in the cohort of those most in need of financial help.
The bursaries will include a small number focused on students who undertake studies in the STEM areas. These bursaries will be named the Walton bursaries after Mr. Ernest Walton, Ireland’s only Nobel laureate in science and the man who, with Mr. John Cockcroft, became the first person to split the atom. We hope they will help to ensure a new generation of Irish people will strive to replicate his achievements. These changes will not impact on those who already hold scholarships under the existing schemes.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Go raibh maith ag an Aire Stáit agus fáiltím roimh an soiléiriú. I welcome the clarification. I am attempting to do some basic mathematics but it was not my strongest subject at leaving certificate level. Although I welcome the fact that a new scholarship scheme will be put in place for DEIS programme students — they certainly need a scheme — it is disappointing that the other scholarships have been scrapped. Some children in Gaeltacht areas are not linked to a DEIS programme school but can do very well and are certainly in a position of disadvantage. They would have accessed the other schemes previously.
There appears to be a considerable cutback in funding. Some €1.7 million was available in 2012 for the five existing schemes. According to my rudimentary mathematics, only €120,000 will be spent and there is only €62,000 available in grants this year. Even in three years when we reach the full cohort of 350 students, the amount comes to €700,000. That is a cutback of €1 million to €700,000. At a time when families are finding it difficult to make ends meet and given the increasing costs of sending children to school and college and the increasing costs of transport, etc., it is a shame that these other scholarship schemes have been cut back. I called on the Minister of State to contact the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and ask him to reassess the funding available and to return it to the level of €1.7 million at a minimum. He should consider that students who do not attend DEIS programme schools may also be in a position of disadvantage and may need support. They may need a scholarship as well.
Deputy John Perry: I have listened carefully and understand the message from the Senator. I will take the message clearly to the Minister responsible, Deputy Quinn. Unfortunately, given the financial austerity everywhere, the fact is that by 2015 there will be less money but recognition is given. In many cases it is a matter of giving recognition to students. A student may have won a special award but he or she may still qualify for support in other areas and for maintenance and grant fees as well.
Let us consider the allocation by the State to students attending third level colleges. There is a great sense of pride in a student if he or she is given a special designated scholarship even though the money may not be as much as in previous times. By 2015 there will be 350 students recognised by the State as being exceptional. The DEIS programme areas of greatest need will be given accelerated funding. It is all based on the funding and scholarship. The payment of maintenance allowances and fees is based on family support and income as well. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is mindful that the scheme put in place by Donogh O’Malley has been in place for a long time, for several decades. It is no harm to revisit it now. The Minister will carry out an ongoing evaluation of the scheme. I have no doubt the Senator’s concerns will be taken note of by the Minister in any future evaluation. One encouraging factor is that by 2015 a greater number will be acknowledged by the Department as being exceptional students from disadvantaged areas. Of itself, this recognition can be a great accelerator for further education.
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