Quinn apologises for grant delays

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has apologised to students and parents distressed by severe delays in the processing of third-level grant applications under the new centralised system.

More than 66,000 students have applied for the third-level grant but just 3,010 have been paid. Mr Quinn said in the Dáil that he hoped 33,000 grant applications would be processed by Christmas.

The Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) system, as a single grant awarding system, replaces the 66 different organisations previously responsible for allocating college grants. But thousands of students claimed they could not pay rent or access college facilities because of the delays in processing applications and faced the prospect of having to withdraw from college.

Mr Quinn said he had already made it clear to the Higher Education Authority (HEA) it was not acceptable for students to be placed at any disadvantage because of any delays.

‘Not acceptable’

The HEA had written to all higher-level institutions twice to convey this message.

“It is not acceptable for colleges to prevent students from accessing libraries, email accounts, lecture notes or any other resources because their grants have not been processed,” he said. “I want to apologise formally to those students and their parents for the distress these delays are causing and ultimately, as Minister for Education and Skills, I accept responsibility.”

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue, who introduced the issue in a Private Member’s debate, said the system had handled 175,000 phone calls since it was established, for 66,000 applications. “That’s three phone calls on average for each application,” he said.

He said many students had little more than visiting rights at libraries. They were facing into Christmas exams without having being able to register fully for their college.

Mr McConalogue claimed the Minister was “scrambling to put the blame on anyone but himself” and had lost interest once the initial “glow” from the launch of the system had faded.

‘Resolve issue’

He said 3,010 grants had been paid – that was less than 5 per cent. The Minister should have long ago sat down with the administrators of the system to see where it was going wrong and to resolve the issue, he said.

But Mr Quinn, who said he deeply regretted what had happened, told the Dáil that all request in relation to staffing and other resources required for Susi had been granted.

“If there are mistakes in the system, I didn’t make them but I am responsible for them,” Mr Quinn said. “I don’t want to have an inquiry while we’re in the middle of fixing the problem.”

His priority was to ensure everyone who was entitled to the grant received it before Christmas.

He said an estimated 8,000 students were not advancing their application, possibly because they realised they were not eligible. “If they were to indicate they were not pursuing the application because they don’t qualify that will reduce the numbers that have to be processed.”