Teacher's Pet

The talk of education

The talk of education

The SUSI student grant application shambles continues to rumble on with thousands of students still waiting on their money. But who is to blame for the mess?

Jacinta Stewart, head of the City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC) which runs the new service, went on RTÉ’s Prime Time last week to explain the crisis. But as Richard Crowley noted, she appeared to be passing the buck to those students who did not complete their applications properly.

Stewart must be regretting that decision to allow CDVEC pitch for the contract. SUSI was flawed from the beginning. The old system administered by more than 60 bodies (33 VECs and 30 councils) was cumbersome and expensive but it worked reasonably well.

The 200 or so officials who worked on the applications had the experience and local knowledge to handle the sometimes complex process. All of this was traded for SUSI which was hugely under-staffed and under-resourced from day one. At one stage, the skeleton staff of fewer than 100 were handling over 50 telephone calls per day. During October and November, SUSI received more than 35,000 emails and was quickly overwhelmed.

The key factors which led to the whole debacle have still to be explained. Who made the case for SUSI within the Department of Education? Who decided on the resource allocation for the new body? And why did the CDVEC believe it could run an efficient service without adequate resources?

It’s also worth recalling what Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn said when the service was launched last June: “SUSI,” he said, “is an excellent example of public sector reform. These reforms will ensure better customer service for all students . . . and are also a concrete development in meeting the objectives for the education sector as set out in the Croke Park Agreement.”

The grinds market continues to thrive with more than 60 per cent of Leaving Cert students paying about €40 per hour for one-on-one tuition. A new venture, onlinegrinds.ie, offers live, interactive grinds from €10 per hour.

Everything will depend on the calibre of teachers the new business will be able to recruit. Parents appear to be quite willing to pay out for grinds, but they also demand considerable reassurance about the teachers providing the service.

Interesting to see – from the Galway City Tribune – that Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) has already spent over €220,000 investigating allegations of cheating. The investigation is also examining whether the alleged cheating was covered up by staff.

The case involves a final-year business student who gained access to sample answers. Given the public money involved, is it too much to hope that GMIT will publish the results of its investigation in full?

Meanwhile at IT Tralee, three academics have been appointed to investigate complaints – by 26 academic staff – that college chairman, Flan Garvey plagiarised sections of a Master’s thesis.

Critically, the external inquiry team has been agreed by the new Qualifications and Quality Assurance Ireland.

The team is: Prof Eda Sagarra, TCD; Dr Tom Duff, former registrar, DIT, and Prof Diarmuid Ó Giolláin from the University of Notre Dame.

Email: sflynn@irishtimes.com Twitter: @SeanFlynnEd