The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan T.D., today announced improvements to the student grant scheme for 2016/17.
The Minister’s announcement coincides with SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) opening its online application system for grant applications for the 2016/17 academic year. This year’s scheme opened more than two weeks earlier than last year. This represents the earliest ever opening of the scheme.
Minister O’Sullivan said: “The earlier opening date is positive news for students. It should lead to earlier decisions in respect of those students who submit their applications before the priority closing dates. In this regard I would encourage all prospective students to visit the SUSI website and review the eligibility criteria for student grant funding. Students who believe that they may be entitled to grant support should submit their applications before the priority closing dates so that they can benefit from earlier decisions and grant support”.
SUSI anticipates that it will receive over 110,000 applications for the 2016/17 academic year. Some €380m will be invested in the scheme in 2016 and more than 80,000 students will benefit.
This year’s scheme includes a number of improvements that are consistent with the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015–2019. This includes an extension to the qualifying criteria for receiving the special rate of maintenance grant and the inclusion of a number of additional income disregards.
The Minister also highlighted new benefits for ‘second chance students’: “The new scheme will support mature students who do not complete their programme in higher education to return to either further or higher education, after a break of five years, without incurring any financial penalties. In previous years students who returned to further education having failed to complete a higher education course were penalised if they subsequently returned to higher education”.
The new scheme also provides the first increase in more than 15 years in the amount of holiday earnings that students can exclude from their reckonable income for grant assessment purposes. This threshold has been increased from €3,809 to €4,500 for the 2016/17 student grant scheme.
Minister O Sullivan welcomed the opening of the new scheme and pointed to a wider review of the legislation that underpins the student support area: “The improvements in the student support scheme for 2016 will assist in widening participation in higher education in line with the objectives of the National Access Plan. My Department is also about to initiate a review of the Student Support Act, which is now 5 years old. This will ensure that the legislation in this area is reflective of the many changes that have taken place in Irish society since 2011”.
The priority closing dates for the 2016/17 scheme are the 6th of June 2016 for renewal applicants and the 8th of July 2016 for new applicants.
Notes for Editors
The changes introduced to the 2016 scheme are intended to enable more applicants from socially disadvantaged groups to qualify for higher grant support.
The main changes to the 2016 Student Grant Scheme are as follows:
Reckonable Income changes
· The qualifying criteria for receiving the special rate of maintenance grant have been extended. Family Income Supplement (FIS) payments and adult and child dependant allowances will in certain circumstances, qualify some applicants for higher grant support.
Second Chance Students
· The rules applying to second change students have been extended for mature students returning to study after a break of five years. Qualifying students can now return to either further or higher education without incurring any financial penalties. In previous year’s students who returned to further education having failed to complete a higher education course, were deemed to have used up their second chance in further education and could not avail of supports if they subsequently returned to higher education.
Payments included as “income disregards”
The following are now being included as income disregards for the purposes of calculating reckonable income:
· Carer’s Support Grant (where paid to the recipients of the Carer’s Allowance and domiciliary Care Allowance),
· Department of Social Protection Temporary Provisions Payment (commonly referred to as the Christmas Bonus payment),
· Mobility Allowance (where paid to the applicant),
· Rental Accommodation Scheme.
Eligible payments for the special rate of grant
The following are now included as eligible payments for the special rate of grant:
· Supplementary Welfare Allowance (where held for 15 consecutive calendar months)
· Gateway Scheme
The student grant scheme allows students to deduct some income from holiday earnings as part of their income assessment. This threshold has been increased from €3,809 to €4,500 for the 2016/17 student grant scheme.