TENS of thousands of people on social welfare payments are going back to school next month.
Each will qualify for a €500 "cost of education" allowance paid at the start of the academic year.
The Back to Education allowance scheme attracted just over 25,000 in the 2010/11 academic year, a rise of 20pc on the previous year.
And it is expected to rise again for 2011/12, with the scheme having a budget of just over €198m.
It is aimed at encouraging people on certain social welfare payments, including jobseekers, lone parents and disability, to improve their skills and qualifications -- and their chances of returning to work.
They will be paid a weekly allowance equal to the maximum standard rate of their social welfare payment while studying.
The course of study being pursued must be a second- or third-level course in a recognised institution on a full-time basis, the Department of Social Protection says.
"Where it applies, people on the Back to Education allowance scheme may also get an increase in respect of a qualified adult and each qualified child," Minister Joan Burton said.
A qualifying period on a social welfare payment of three months applies for those doing a second-level course and nine months for someone pursuing a third-level course.
A person who has received statutory redundancy "may apply immediately, provided an underlying entitlement to a social welfare payment exists", the department said.
To take part in the scheme, people should contact their local second- or third-level school or college to get details of the courses available.
They can also advise on how to obtain a place on the course of your choice, the department said.
"When you are accepted on a course, you should notify the Department of Social Protection by downloading and completing the Back to Education Allowance application form, which is available online at www.welfare.ie and from your social welfare local office," it said.
Ms Burton said the road to quality employment "starts with self improvement and development" and the scheme was one of a range of supports from her department to help people on social welfare payments to access work experience, education and training".
These include the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance, Tus, the community work placement initiative and JobBridge, the national internship scheme.