According to the Irish Times, thousands of higher education grants are going to middle-class families, with the children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers being left behind in the funds battle.

Almost 13pc of all new grants awarded in 2008 and 2009 went to the children of professionals, employers and managers. And one in 11 grants went to sons or daughters of those with a weaker cash flow, for example, farmers.

It was revealed that just over 8 per cent of new grants went to children of Own Account Workers, a category that 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, according to official figures from the Department of Education and Skills.

The Union of Students in Ireland is also unconvinced by the need for an asset test -- repeating the problem of strong assets but weak cash flow for some farmers.

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."

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.

Just over 57 thousand full-time students held grants in 2008 and 2009, this jumped to almost 70,000 last year, and is expected to increase again this year.