Reform to make it easier for students to get bigger grants
Some third-level students will find it easier to get a grant next year because of changes in the rules.
The grants agency, SUSI, has announced a number of improvements, which will enable more applicants to qualify for payments and, in some cases, higher payments. Grants are designed to support students in higher or further education, and family income is the main criterion for eligibility.
One key difference for 2016/17 is an increase in the level of holiday earnings a student can accumulate in a year, before they count as part of family income.
Currently, students may deduct €3,809 of their holiday earnings from family income before the assessment for grant eligibility is done, but that is being raised to €4,500, the first such increase in 15 years.
A high proportion of grant applicants are expected to benefit from the holiday earnings change, allowing students to receive up to €700 more a year without damaging their chances of being approved for a grant.
The Department of Education has also added to the list of welfare payments that can be disregarded for the purposes of calculating reckonable income, to include allowances such as the carer's support grant (where paid to the recipients of the carer's allowance and domiciliary care allowance) and the Christmas Bonus.
In another significant development, the qualifying criteria for receiving the higher rate of maintenance grant - reserved for the most needy cases - are being extended.
There is also greater flexibility this year in rules applying to 'second chance' students, to the advantage of mature students returning to study after a break of five years.
SUSI has opened for applications earlier than ever this year, which, combined with improved electronic data sharing with a number of government departments and agencies, will allow for earlier decision making and grant payments.
The more streamlined processes being employed by SUSI include the use of the new postal code system, Eircode, which will allow for automatic calculations of the distance between college and home, which determines what level of support successful grant applicants receive.
Last year, SUSI processed more than 108,000 applications, and awarded in excess of 83,000 grants, and this year it expects applications to surpass 110,000.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan announced her Department is about to initiate a review of the Student Support Act, to ensure that the "legislation is reflective of the many changes that have taken place in Irish society since 2011".