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Minister Gormley Fails Students

27 February, 2008

Speaking during this evening's Dáil debate on the Student Support Bill 2008 Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris has criticised Minister Gormley for failing to live up to his commitment to establish a task force to tackle the challenge of student accommodation costs.

Deputy Ferris said:

"After years of a fragmented grants system and justifiable criticism of the current student grants system, I welcome the belated publication of this Student Support Bill.

"The Bill proposes a unified grant payment scheme by replacing the existing four different grant schemes with a single unified system that sets out to streamline and simplify the process of grants application. There is, unfortunately, little in the bill which will have any great impact on students in its current state. Most importantly the bill fails to centralise the grants system at a national level.

"One of the major issues relating to the grants system is that of late payments to students. The Bill moves to transfer the administration of the grants to the VECs but whether this will solve the problem of late payments remains to be seen.

"The Bill needs to be a stepping stone towards the full centralisation of the grants application system. It should deal with the need to increase the amounts paid out in grants which are currently far below what someone would need to support themselves, taking into account accommodation, (of which there is no mention either) transport and other general living expenses.

"Maintenance grant schemes fail to take into consideration the costs of course equipment and also childcare - something which too often represents a major barrier to access and participation, particularly for mature students, lower income groups and single parents.

"It is disappointing that the Bill makes no reference to the issue of accommodation. Currently there is nobody taking responsibility for this issue and we are unclear whether it is a local government or education issue. Minister Gormley promised to establish a task force to deal with the issue of student accommodation but this has not materialised either and I demand to know why.

"The bill makes no reference to part-time students of which there are 35,000 in the state. The minister says that they will be provided for 'through ministerial orders'. We however see no difference between full and part-time students and do not see why the Bill has them in a distinct group.

"In the Programme for Government the government promised that it would introduce a new system of means-tested, free fees for approved part-time courses, which, according to the Department of Education would be piloted in certain areas in September. Why is this not included in the Bill?

"The establishment of the Independent Appeals Board is certainly a welcome and progressive development. We do however find that the 90 day period of deliberation is needless and excessive.

"As I have already stated, this Bill is of course a welcome improvement to the system which is already in place. I welcome any efforts to address the serious problems facing Irish students; however I fear that this Bill merely scratches the surface." CRÍOCH

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