Irish students attending colleges in EU states become eligible for £1,600 grant


SOME 6,000 students from the Republic attending third level colleges in other EU states will become eligible for higher education grants worth up to £1,600 a year from next autumn.

However, a number of high demand courses such as medicine and teacher training will not be included in the extension of the higher education grants scheme to be announced shortly by the Minister for Education, The Irish Times has learned.

In these courses, the Higher Education Authority imposes quotas restricting the number of training places available in Ireland. Fears of a glut of foreign qualified doctors and teachers prompted the exclusion.

Students enrolling in dentistry and veterinary medicine courses overseas, as well as postgraduate students, will also be ineligible for grant support.

Grants will be available for full time undergraduate courses in universities or other third level institutes in EU states at an annual cost of more than £6 million. Courses must be at least two years in duration, but colleges similar to private commercial colleges in the Republic are not included.

The Minister, Ms Breathnach, is increasing the level of grant support for all students by 5 per cent this year, bringing the maximum maintenance payment for a student living away from home to £1,600. Income eligibility limits are being increased by 2.4 per cent. Grant support will cover maintenance payments and the cost of fees, although in most EU countries these are small or non existent.

At present, only students attending colleges in Ireland North and South are eligible for grants. In response to the shortage of third level places in the Republic, the number of students enrolling in British colleges has soared in recent years. Last year, 3,000 students started courses in British universities, a 50 per cent increase over the previous year. The total number of Irish students in Britain is estimated at more than 6,000.

Ms Breathnach views the move as a further element in a package of reforms designed to improve the system of student support. It follows the abolition of fees for full time undergraduates, the provision of tax relief for part time students and those attending private colleges, and the abolition of charges for Post Leaving Cert courses.

Economists have expressed fears that with the growing job mobility within the EU, the Irish labour market could be "swamped" in some areas by foreign trained personnel who return to Ireland to work.