VEC officials blame students for third-level grant delays

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

More than half of the delays in awarding student grants were caused by students themselves providing incomplete or incorrect information, administrators claimed yesterday.

Representatives of the City of Dublin VEC administering the €350 million third-level grant scheme said they had received just one formal complaint relating to lost documents.

VEC chief executive Jacinta Stewart told TDs and Senators the application process included a means test and was a “complex process” involving many different proofs and agencies.

However, her submission led to heated comments at the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection, with members claiming students were being unfairly blamed for delays in the process. A number of calls were made for Ms Stewart to acknowledge the system had failed and apologise.

The committee heard the VEC had received about 66,000 applications, some 5,000 of which came in after the August deadline.

Ms Stewart and officials from the VEC said about 20,350 applications had been processed to a decision stage. Of these, 9,000 had been refused, and 11,000 told they would be paid. Of those approved, 3,010 had been paid.

The administrators have received more than 35,000 emails and 175,000 phone calls in recent weeks it was revealed.

A number of members then repeated calls for Ms Stewart to apologise, adding that tens of thousands of students were denied access to some college facilities because they had not paid their registration fees.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said many students were facing into Christmas not knowing if they had qualified for a grant. If they qualified, they did not know whether they would be paid before new year. He said Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn “didn’t seem to know” what was wrong.

Socialist TD Clare Daly said she was “surprised” at Ms Stewart’s remarks, as she had expected “an acknowledgment or an apology”. She said “the impression being given was that this was the fault of the students in not giving full documentation” .

Fine Gael TD James Bannonsaid the online application system known as “Susie” was a “bureaucratic nightmare” and, having met students in Athlone on the issue, he believed “there needs to be an apology”.