Student grant delay 'unsatisfactory'
Just 15 per cent of third-level students who applied for a grant for the first time this year have received a payment so far.
By the beginning of this week, just 18,000 of the 66,000 applications received had been processed through a new centralised application system, with 9,000 refused.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme today, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said progress made so far was “not as satisfactory” as he would like, but marked “quite an improvement” on previous years.
First-time grant applications are being processed this year by Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi), a centralised system operated by the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (VEC).
In previous years, students applied to their local authority or VEC for college grants, with some 66 authorities involved.
The Susi system was established to speed up the application process, as local authorities and VECs were struggling to deal with an increasing number of applications within a reasonable timeframe.
In a letter to members of the Oireachtas this week, the Minister said he was still hopeful that all successful applications could be completed by December.
“This would represent a significant improvement on the previous system in many parts of the country, though still leaving us with significant room for improvement next year,” he said.
Of the 66,000 applications received this year, additional documentation has been requested from 21,000 applicants. The remaining 27,000 applications have yet to be processed by Susi.
Mr Quinn said 20 extra staff have been added to the Susi team to speed up documentation processing, which is now being carried out at a rate of 800 applications per day.
“I am disappointed that the system hasn’t worked as well as it was designed to work,” Mr Quinn said this morning. “This is its first year in operation. Some identifiable problems have emerged, and these will be fixed.”
Fianna Fáil spokesman on education Charlie McConalogue said the delays have “severely hampered” the college experience for students who are still waiting on their grant payments.
“Some have been forced to drop out, while others are unable to register properly and are blocked from accessing essential student services,” he said.
“They [Susi] are blaming much of the delays on incomplete applications and unavailable documentation… At this rate, thousands of students will certainly be waiting until the early spring to receive their grant.”
Mr Quinn said he was working with the Higher Education Authority to ensure universities allow students who are expecting to receive a grant to register for libraries and exams.
“We are ensuring that the third level colleges will not put any such barriers in the way of students who will be getting a grant but haven’t yet got it,” he said.
Jacinta Stewart, chief executive of the City of Dublin VEC, will be present at a special meeting of the Oireachtas Education Committee next week to answer queries about progress to date and how the Susi system will be improved for future years.