Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science | Ensuring access to third-level education
To ask the Minister for Further and Higher Education; Research; Innovation and Science his plans to ensure continued access to third-level for all students seeking to avail of education at this level; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
With regard to the Student Grant Scheme, the Deputy may be aware that I already instigated improvements to the student grant scheme in Budget 2022. For the academic year 2022/23, I increased the income threshold to qualify for the standard rate of student grant by €1,000 & all maintenance grant holders benefited from a grant increase of €200.
I also announced a range of further measures to enhance the scheme as part of Budget 2023. Some of these cost-of-living measures commenced in 2022.
- As part of the Government’s cost of living measures, every SUSI maintenance grant recipient received an additional once-off extra maintenance payment;
- All higher education students who are eligible for the fees initiative benefited from a once off reduction in the Student Contribution rate of €1,000 for the 2022/2023 academic year;
- PhD students funded by the SFI and the IRC benefited from a once off payment of €500 in the current academic year; and
- Post Graduate Students who met the eligibility criteria for a Postgraduate Fee Contribution Grant benefited from a once off increase in this grant of €1,000 from €3,500 to €4,500.
In addition, I increased all maintenance grants effective from January 2023 in order to provide further financial assistance to those students most in need. The special rate and Band 1 rate of maintenance increased by 14% and all other maintenance grant rates increased by 10%.
A further range of improvements to the student grant scheme as announce in Budget 2023 will take effect for the 2023/24 academic year, including:
- An increase in income limit from €55,240 to €62,000 for the 50% student contribution grant;
- A new student contribution grant of €500 for incomes between €62,000 and €100,000;
- An increase the postgraduate fee grant by €500 on 2022 levels from €3,500 to €4,000;
- A reduction in the eligibility for second chance mature students from 5 to 3 years;
- Exclusion of up to €14,000 rental income earned under Rent-a-Room Relief Scheme from reckonable income;
- An increase in student earnings outside of term time from €4,500 to €6,552; and
- A greater degree of flexibility for students who may have a long term social welfare payment but are falling outside of the special rate (this will allow a small increase on the income threshold for the special rate if a family has 4 or more children and/or has two or more students in college).
As I did for the first time last year, it is my intention to publish a cost of education options paper which will set out options for further enhancement of student supports for consideration as part of the Budgetary process in the Autumn.
In addition to all of these improvements to the Student Grant Scheme, a further €8 million of funding has been secured for the Student Assistance Fund for the current academic year. Students in third-level institutions experiencing exceptional financial need can apply for support under the Student Assistance Fund (SAF). The Fund provides financial support to students who are experiencing financial difficulties while attending college. Students can apply for SAF to help with either temporary or ongoing financial difficulties and can be assisted towards their rent, childcare costs, transport costs and books/class materials. It is open to both full and part-time registered students on courses of not less than one year’s duration leading to an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification. It is designed to provide a source of financial support in addition to a SUSI grant.
Regarding access measures for disadvantaged students, the new National Access Plan, a Strategic Action Plan for Equity of Access, Participation and Success 2022-2028 was developed in the context of Programme for Government (PfG) commitments and other social inclusion policy measures. The plan aligns with and builds on the wider ambitions of the PfG by providing accessible, affordable education to all citizens. €5m was secured under Budget 2022 to support new pilot initiatives and enhance existing initiatives under the Programme for Access to Higher Education (PATH) Fund to address priority actions under the NAP. Delivery of the Plan is supported by the PATH programme which provides a range of supports to priority groups including bursaries under the 1916 scholarship scheme and support for people from target groups in accessing initial teacher education. The programme also supports clusters of higher education institutions in attracting under-represented students. PATH will receive an additional dedicated investment of €35 million over the course of the plan.
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