Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn has insisted the awarding authority for student grant applications will run “considerably better” in 2013.
Due to a backlog of applications and administration issues, Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) had to delay paying out grants to thousands of students during this academic year. A number of food boxes were set up at third level institutions throughout the country to help those experiencing financial hardship.
Minister Quinn admitted that Susi “wasn’t successful in the way that we would have liked” and said it would take two or three years before the system was “streamlined” to operate completely smoothly.
“It won’t be perfect [this year], but it will be in the future,” he said.
The minister defended moving the deadline for grant applications forward to August 1st, some two weeks before the Leaving Certificate results will be issued.
In a further bid to quicken the process, Mr Quinn said Susi would have access to state-held information from the Department of Social Protection regarding students’ eligibility for grants. He added that more staff would be hired at SUSI if necessary.
The Minister was speaking on Morning Ireland today.
He also said no discussions on including a capital assets test when assessing grant applications had yet been held in cabinet, but admitted he may face opposition from Fine Gael backbenchers on the issue.
Opposition politicians have raised concern that if the proposals on asset tests were introduced children from farming backgrounds would not be eligible for maintenance grants.
Almost 117,000 students will begin state examinations today and Minister Quinn wished Junior and Leaving Certificate students well. He advised them to take their time during the exam and to read all questions carefully.
He encouraged parents and siblings to support students and try to ensure they are under as little pressure as possible.
As the exams begin, the Higher Education Authority has warned that demand will soon surpass third level education places.
“This is the last year or at best second-last when the supply of higher education places will match demand,” said the authority’s chief executive, Tom Boland.
Some 56,000 students will sit the Leaving Cert in 2013 and this number is expected to rise in future years.
There is a notable increase in the number of students sitting the Junior Cert, which at 60,243 is up by more than 500 on 2012.
“From 2015, demographic growth will lead to inexorably rising demand for places. Unless the funding conundrum can be fixed this will lead to problems for quality or access or both,” Mr Boland said.
The authority expects demand for undergraduate places to have increased by 25 per cent by 2020.