Thousands of middle-class students given college grants
Children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers left behind in battle for funds
THOUSANDS of higher education grants are going to middle-class families, figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.
Almost 13pc of all new grants awarded in 2008/09 went to the children of professionals, employers and managers. And one in 11 grants went to sons or daughters of farmers who are often asset rich, although their cashflow may be poor.
And 8.12pc of new grants went to children of Own Account Workers, a category which includes a wide range of occupations from purchasing managers to plasterers, butchers, hairdressers and chefs.
Between them, the children of professional, employer and farming groups secured more grants than the children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers combined, the official figures from the Department of Education and Skills reveal.
The disclosure prompted the Labour Party last night to pledge that it would review the criteria for grant eligibility if it gets into government.
Finance spokesperson Joan Burton said "my long standing view is that net assets such as property, less borrowings, should also be taken into account, as well as income".
But Fine Gael has refused to commit itself to an asset test.
Education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said that "before considering the criteria for third level grants eligibility, the broader issue of how to fund the third-level sector must be tackled or education quality will be compromised".
The Union of Students in Ireland is also unconvinced by the need for an asset test -- repeating the problem of strong assets but weak cashflow for some farmers.
But USI president Gary Redmond agreed that it was still possible to defraud the State, partly because of the lack of an integrated approach by the various state agencies involved in assessing eligibility.
The data shows the social background of students who were awarded new grants in 2008/09 on the basis of family income for 2007 -- which was at the end of the Celtic Tiger era.
A total of 57,261 full-time students held grants in 2008/09, this jumped to almost 70,000 last year, and has increased further this year.
This means that one in two students is on a grant. The grants range in value from €330 to a maximum of €3,250, depending on family income. Income thresholds range from €41,110 for the full grant for a family with four children to €51,380 for a partial grant.