Dáil Éireann - Volume 621 - 14 June, 2006

Written Answers. - Higher Education Grants.

Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the funding which is available to individual students from the fund announced relative to fourth level education; if it is proposed to grant aid to students at this level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22909/06]

  Ms Hanafin: The OECD Review of Higher Education in Ireland made a compelling case for the reform of the higher education system and this has been strongly endorsed by Government and key partners across the sector. It is acknowledged that institutions need to embrace reform in order to allow them to rise to the challenges prompted by the changing economic and social environment while retaining and building upon existing excellence in their historical mission to advance and disseminate knowledge. The sector is acknowledged as an engine for economic growth and is also expected to be an instrument for a fair and equitable dispersion of the benefits of that growth to promote social cohesion and inclusion.

I announced the Strategic Innovation Fund last April as one element in a programme of investment and reform in higher education that will enable the sector to deliver on national priorities.

The SIF key objectives are —

— to enhance the delivery of core activities of education and research, through effective and creative institutional and inter-institutional collaboration and including where necessary, appropriate internal restructuring and rationalisation efforts

— to support enabling measures to prepare for the expansion and development of post-graduate education (including expansion and development of graduate schools), including both intra- and inter-institutional collaboration

— to support innovation and quality improvement in teaching and learning, including enhanced teaching methods, programme re-structuring, modularisation and e-learning

[1320] — to support access, retention and progression at both individual institutional and through inter institutional and sectoral level collaboration.

I recognise that the development of a strong, modernised and reformed third level will underpin the creation of a fourth level which has been identified as the cornerstone of Ireland’s future economic development. The Strategic Innovation Fund will enable institutions to enhance their delivery of education which will benefit all those in the sector, especially students, and enable them to reach their full potential in our changing society. It is expected that a call for proposals by the Higher Education Authority from the third level institutions will issue shortly.

I should point out that the three Third Level Student Support Schemes, administered by the Local Authorities and the Vocational Education Committees on behalf of my Department, offer financial assistance to eligible post-graduate students attending approved courses. Students entering approved courses for the first time are, generally speaking, eligible for grants where they satisfy the relevant conditions as to age, residence, means, nationality and previous academic attainment.

An approved post-graduate course for the purpose of the Higher Education Grants Scheme and the VEC Scholarship Scheme is a full time postgraduate course of not less than one years duration pursued in an approved institution in Ireland.

In December 2000 clause 7.7 of the Higher Education Grant Scheme 2000 was amended to provide financial assistance to eligible candidates who already hold a postgraduate qualification and who wish to enter a further postgraduate course at a higher level, which represents progression from the level at which the first qualification was attained.

Section 473A, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, provides tax relief, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including certain approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in E.U. Member States and postgraduate courses in non EU countries.

Tax Relief on tuition fees is claimed directly from the Tax Office using an I.T. 31 Form. Details of approved colleges and courses are also available on Revenue’s Internet site at www.revenue.ie.