Question; To ask the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the higher education grants for postgraduate students for the coming academic year in terms of eligibility and means testing in view of the fact that many prospective students are now applying for postgraduate courses; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Reply; Minister 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 the recent Budget. 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 anymaintenance 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. My Department estimates this will help an additional 4,000 postgraduate students.
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.
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. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees.
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. “