Thousands more students are likely to qualify for a Susi college grant for the next academic year because of the impact of Covid-19 on household finances.
Susi opens for applications for 2020/21 tomorrow, with confirmation that income losses suffered by students and families as a result of the current emergency will be taken into account in deciding eligibility.
Normally, Susi assesses applicants on the basis of income in the previous calendar year, but a "change of circumstances" clause makes provision for a sudden drop in income in the current year.
Education Minister Joe McHugh has confirmed applicants affected by Covid-19 can apply to be assessed under the change of circumstances provision.
A Susi spokesperson said that if an "applicant or any party to their application experiences a negative change in income which is likely to last for the duration of the course or the foreseeable future, they can apply to be assessed under change of circumstances whereby the income reference period will be 2020".
Tens of thousands of families have suffered an unexpected blow to their income in recent weeks because of the closure of businesses and industries forced by public health concerns - and re-opening will be phased and slow.
The Government has a range of welfare payments and wage subsidies in place but, in the vast majority of cases, incomes are taking a hit.
Latest figures from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection show 584,000 people are in receipt of the main support mechanism, the €350-a-week Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.
That is on top of the 212,000 people who are on the Live Register, including some Covid-19 related lay-offs.
Family income is a key criterion for grant eligibility and the general maximum allowed for grant purposes varies from €39,875-€64,700, depending on the number of children in a family.
In certain circumstances, the income limit can be increased by up to €4,830.
In the most economically disadvantaged households - in receipt of a specified Department of Social Protection payment - the income threshold for eligibility is €24,500 for 2020/21, up €500 on last year.
In the current academic year, about 76,250 higher and further education students received a grant, down from more than 80,000 in 2014/15, as a result of improving family finances and static income eligibility thresholds.
Payments vary, depending on income and distance from college, with about 72pc of this year's undergraduates receiving between €1,225 and €5,915 in maintenance grants, plus their fees covered.
In the biggest single category are almost 17,000 students living more than 45km from college, who received a grant of €3,025, plus fees.
While Covid-19 has disrupted starting dates for the Leaving Cert exams and college entry, it is business as usual at Susi, which is sticking with its timelines for applications.
Taken together with agreements on data-sharing with agencies such as the CAO, opening in April allows Susi to process applications early, bringing forward decision-making and expediting payment of grants to students when the academic year gets under way.
In further changes this year, Susi has broadened the eligibility criteria to include additional categories of students granted leave to reside in the state on humanitarian or international protection grounds.