Student Grants, latest update from Minister Quinn

 Student Grants
I would like to take this opportunity to clearly set-out the three changes which were made by the previous Government:
1.        The overall rate of grant was reduced by 4% on January 1st 2011.
2.        From September 2011, the automatic entitlement of mature students to the non-adjacent rate of grant was removed.
3.        The qualifying distance criterion for the non-adjacent rate of grant was increased from 24kms to 45kms.
While the changes to the student grant schemes in Budget 2011 will mean many students will suffer a reduction in their grants, no student will lose their entitlement to a grant because of these changes.
Those on particularly low incomes will continue to receive a “top-up” in the special rate of grant. This allows students from disadvantaged backgrounds to receive higher grants of €2,445 at the adjacent rate, or €6,100 at the non-adjacent rate.  
Students in difficult financial positions will also continue to have access to the €5Mn Student Assistance Fund, which is administered by the access offices of third-level institutions.
I have also announced that all student grant applications and payments will be centralised.  From the 2012/13 academic year onwards, all grants will be administered by City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC), instead of the 66 different awarding bodies at present.  This should ensure that all grant applications are processed in a timely manner.
2. Student Contribution
Families with more than one student attending college are entitled to tax relief at 20% on the student contributions of their second and subsequent children.  While it was originally announced that a reduced charge of €1,500 would apply to the second and subsequent children, this was not what was implemented by Fianna Fáil in the Finance Act in January. 
Families wishing to avail of this tax relief will have to pay €2,000 per student to the relevant colleges, and then claim 20% tax relief on the amounts in excess of €2,000 from the Revenue Commissioners.  This will bring the effective cost for the second and subsequent children to €1,600.
The contribution will continue to be paid by the Exchequer for students who qualify under the third level grant schemes. Approximately 44% of students qualified for grants in the 2009/10 academic year.
Higher education institutions have been asked to put in place arrangements under which a student may opt to pay the charge in two equal instalments of 50% in September and 50% in January in a given academic year. While not every institution has been able to implement this arrangement for technical reasons, the vast majority of third level institutions are able to offer this service. I have tasked the Higher Education Authority with ensuring every third level college will be able to deliver this service from 2012 onwards.
As I have previously advised, regretfully, I am not in a position to reverse any of the changes made by Fianna Fáil as part of that budget.
3. Third-level funding
The Higher Education Authority was asked to report on the funding of third-level institutions.  An interim report has been presented to me for consideration this week, which will now be considered by my Department.  This report will inform any future debate on the funding of universities and Institutes of Technology.
It was the Rainbow Government in the 1990s which removed existing anomalies and abolished fees for undergraduate courses.   I am determined to avoid creating barriers that prevent those from disadvantaged backgrounds from getting to third-level. 
We need to ensure that our further education institutions have sustainable funding but we also need to ensure that we don’t prevent students from accessing third level.  What makes this situation more complicated is the fact that enrolments in third level are rising dramatically, combined with the difficult financial situation we are in.
65% of all students finish their Leaving Cert, and progress to third-level.  Our target is to increase that figure to 72% by 2020, and that will particularly require an increased number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access third-level.

Ireland is a very unequal society. However, brains and talent are equally distributed across the population and we want to ensure that those brains and talent which previously could not get into third level education because of financial and family backgrounds are liberated and can participate. 
Yours sincerely,
Ruairi Quinn, TD
Minister for Education and Skills