Promise of extra staff and need for fewer documents to process student grants

‘Insufficient planning and testing’ before launch of centralised applications system


Additional staffing to deal with student grant applications and reduced documentation requirements were promised yesterday after publication of a report into the serious delays which had caused hardship and uncertainty for many students left without cash.

The review of the problems of the centralised grant application scheme for third-level students criticised the basis on which it was established.

The report said the implementation plan which formed the basis for the operation of the Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) in its first year was “not defined to the level required to support a new national processing operation”.

There was “insufficient planning and testing” and there were “delays and constraints” in resourcing the scheme, the report by the consultants Accenture, commissioned by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) which runs Susi, found.

CDVEC chief executive Jacinta Stewart welcomed the report. She said additional resources had been sanctioned to ensure Susi would have additional staff when it launched next week for the year ahead.

“We are also working to dramatically reduce the documentation required for new applicants and improvements in communications and processing times.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn noted that Susi had received sanction for additional staff and was working to reduce the documentation required.
New applications
“The Minister will continue to monitor how Susi responds to new applications when it launches again next week.”

The review found criticism of the scheme by students and others was partly due to “heightened expectations” that the system would “greatly accelerate the grant awards and payments process”.

Susi, the centralised application system for student grants, was introduced for the first time last year. It was set up to replace an application system which involved 33 VECs and 33 local authorities. In the first year, it processed only new applications. It was subject to widespread complaints about delays and high rates of rejection.

More than 10,000 student grant applications for the academic year beginning September 2012 were either still being processed or were “under query” by March 22nd, 2013, the report found.

More than 1,100 applications were at “on-hand processing” stage by the March date and almost 9,000 were under query or incomplete.

More than 23,000 of the almost 70,000 grant applications were refused and more than 36,000 were granted.

The report also found that more than 6,500 applicants appealed a decision to reject their application and of those appeals, more than 60 per cent were successful. “The high overturn rate could be an indicator of a potential quality issue and therefore needs to be carefully monitored by Susi.”
Operating model
The City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee had gone from processing 5,000 applications to 70,000 and this challenge “should not be underestimated”, the report said.

It required “a fundamentally expanded operating model” and elements of this were “not fully in place” prior to its launch. Although resources had been approved, there were “challenges in securing the right staffing resources in the compressed timeframe” before the scheme began.

“There are also core roles missing from the current management structure,” the report said, including an overall head of Susi and a dedicated information technology lead.

It said Susi addressed “many of these issues during the year”. However it warned “without an early injection of management resources and an agreed mechanism for sourcing temporary staff, Susi will struggle to achieve” its objectives.