Student Support Bill to simplify grant system


STUDENT GRANTS:THIRD-LEVEL students will be able to access grants from a single agency following the passage of one of the final pieces of legislation of the current Dáil.

The Student Support Bill is likely to be signed into law before the 30th Dáil is dissolved. Under its terms, four types of student grant will be replaced by one, with one agency to administer it.

At present, 66 agencies, made up equally of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) and local authorities, handle student grants.

The administration of the grant system will be put to tender to allow State agencies bid for the contract from next year.

Tánaiste and Minister for Education Mary Coughlan described the Bill as the “most comprehensive piece of legislation on students’ grants in more than 40 years”.

She said it would mark a huge improvement in the way students applied for and received grants.

Both VECs and local authorities have been under pressure as a result of the recession, with an estimated 40 per cent of students now receiving grant assistance.

The Union of Students in Ireland said it was delighted with the proposal, as it had lobbied for it for four years.

USI president Gary Redmond said: “This will make it a lot simpler for students. Students will get their grants on time and it will save money for the taxpayer.”

The current grant schemes are the higher education scheme for the university sector; the third-level maintenance grant scheme for trainees and students at levels six and seven in institutes of technology; the VEC scholarship scheme; and the maintenance scheme for students attending post-Leaving Certificate courses, which are mostly run by the Further Education and Training Awards Council.

In another move aimed at the third-level sector, an amendment to the Finance Bill has enabled parents of students who pay registration fees to deduct the fees against their tax liability if they have more than one child at college.

It means parents will be able to claim tax relief at the standard rate for registration fees for second and subsequent children, saving an average of €400 for each child.

Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae demanded the amendment in return for support of the Finance Bill, which passed second stage in the Dáil yesterday.