The long awaited Student Support Bill has today been published by Minister for Education Mary Hanafin.
The Bill will provide a single statutory basis for all student grants, replacing four different schemes currently operated by local authorities and VECs.
The Bill will also see more streamlined administrative procedures for the management of the student grant awarding process, honouring the pledge made in the Programme for Government.
Publishing the Bill today, Minister Hanafin said: “The development of a unified system of student support will greatly assist those embarking on higher and further education who need financial support and the publication of this Bill marks an important milestone in the process.”
The Vocational Education Committee will be the authority administering the student grants under the Bill.
Included in the Bill is the introduction of a new independent appeals board to promote greater transparency in the student granting process.
There is also a provision to allow for fraudulent claims to be perused, resulting in heavy fines.
The Bill aims to provide equality of access for those seeking third level education for underrepresented sections of the community by requiring the institutions involved to draw up and implement access plans and equality policies.
The Bill sets out the general residence requirement for maintenance grants, three out of the last five years in the State, which must in all cases be met by the student.
This residence requirement, while more demanding, is now sufficiently flexible to facilitate students who may opt, for example, to work or travel outside the State for a period of up to two years and who can still meet the residence requirement on their return.
The Bill also provides for temporary absences for the purposes of study or postgraduate research in the EU in certain circumstances
Changes in the administrative arrangements and the eligibility requirements will apply to new entrants to the grant scheme following the commencement of the Act.
It is hoped that this will occur in the 2009/2010 academic year.