Online system for student grants 'failing abysmally'

Fri, Nov 9, 2012, 00:00

Up to 50,000 students were waiting for third-level grants because of the “disastrous’’ central online system being used, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil.

“The system is failing abysmally as third-level students throughout Ireland have yet to receive decisions, let alone the grants themselves, on their applications.’’

He said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn had confirmed that up to 40 per cent of applications were being returned as incomplete. This flew in the face of the scheme’s raison d’etre, which was to be fail-safe.

Mr Martin said approximately 65 staff were doing the work that up to 60 local authorities did previously.

The Government should intervene “in this unprecedented crisis’’ in the administration of student grants and get the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the City of Dublin VEC, which administered Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), the grants system and the university authorities to ensure there was a student-centric approach.

Mr Martin said students were number one. “Everyone else must work to that end, not towards their own institutional or territorial concerns.’’

Such chronic delays had serious implications for students. “Worryingly, there is anecdotal evidence of students dropping out of college because of a lack of certainty. We are also hearing that students cannot register properly and are being denied access to various campus services.’’

He said many students were suffering a great deal of stress and anxiety.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said there were 66,000 completed applications for grants this year, of which 18,000 had been completed and awarded, provisionally awarded or refused.

He said SUSI was awaiting documentation on 21,000 applicants, while the remaining 27,000 applications were being processed.

Additional staff

He said additional staff had been provided to accelerate the processing, which was continuing at a rate of 800 applications per day.

Mr Gilmore said that for years Fianna Fáil had referred to the necessity to rationalise the way the student grants system was being administered. Some 66 local authorities and VECs had dealt with it previously.

Mr Quinn, he said, had given the role to one body, SUSI, for first-time applicants. Applications for existing grant holders continued to be processed by local authorities and VECs.

Mr Gilmore said the Minister was on top of the issue, and had directed the HEA to ensure that universities and institutes of technology did not put any student whose grant had not yet come through at a disadvantage.

Mr Martin accused the Tánaiste and Mr Quinn of “shamelessly’’ using students to help them get into power. Once in power they discarded them and broke every solemn pledge made.