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Maintenance Grant: Retention

Oral Answers to Questions — Employment and Learning – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Cathal Ó hOisín Cathal Ó hOisín Sinn Féin 2:30 pm, 19th January 2016

T5. Mr Ó hOisín asked the Minister for Employment and Learning whether he will commit to retaining the maintenance grant for students here. (AQT 3345/11-16)

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

I am happy to assure the Member that I have done so. The maintenance grant is not under threat on my watch, and, to be fair to others, I do not think that it will be under threat in any future Assembly. We understand the importance of supporting widening access to higher education, and the maintenance grant goes a long way in that regard. Obviously, what is happening in England is proceeding in a rather underhand way and is creating tensions at a political level. It will be important, especially if we see a negative Barnett consequential. That outcome is as yet far from clear, because we are not entirely clear whether the maintenance grant is being scored as a spending provision or a tax provision by the Treasury. If we see a negative Barnett consequential for Northern Ireland, I expect that the Executive will absorb that collectively, and we will continue to support access to higher education, particularly for the most disadvantaged students.

Photo of Cathal Ó hOisín Cathal Ó hOisín Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an fhreagra sin. I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he accept that maintenance grants are a critical component of his Department's widening participation strategy?

Photo of Stephen Farry Stephen Farry Alliance

Yes — very much so. They are also a very significant resource commitment. We are talking about a figure in the region of £70 million a year. Unlike tuition fee support, which is resourced through annually managed expenditure moneys and is not part of our block grant, maintenance grants come directly out of our block grant.

It is a major commitment, but it is certainly worthwhile. It is important that we fully mobilise all the talent in our society if we are to have a successful economy.