In this digital age, the processing of large volumes of data has become easier – or so one might assume. However the inept handling by Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) – the grant awarding body – of the annual applications for student grants, gives the lie to that common assumption. The introduction in 2012 of a centralised and computerised system to handle grant applications was undermined by Susi’s failure to perform as expected. The new State body failed the students that it was meant to serve, by its inability to process their applications, promptly. Many applicants had to wait several months for a decision, while for some the delay involved unnecessary worry and financial hardship. Last year the State body awarded some 40,000 grants to students.
The new academic year has seen some improvement in the grant awarding body’s performance. The application process is simpler and the rules are more flexible. Susi now requires fewer documents from applicants, and allows students more time to apply for a grant. Nevertheless, given the high level of public dissatisfaction with Susi’s performance – for which Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, must accept his share of the blame – it is hardly surprising that some aggrieved and frustrated grant applicants have taken their case to the Ombudsman’s office. Or indeed, that the Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly in one of her final decisions has accepted more than 50 complaints from students about how the State body has handled their grant applications.
The number of students in higher education is often invoked as a major national asset, and not least when Ministers seek to attract foreign direct investment to locate in Ireland. But, when those of limited means seek minimal State support to help finance their third level studies, they deserve far better treatment than they have so far received from this State body, or indeed the Government.
* This article was amended on September 26th, 2013