less than 5 per cent of student grant applications have been awarded this year, leaving almost 1,000 Laois third level students and their families stranded for cash.
Laois Offaly TD Brian Stanley has labelled the new centralised SUSI online processing system a national scandal, while the chairperson of Laois VEC Cllr Mary Sweeney says the Taoiseach’s promise to amend the system is “not good enough”.
System flaws have caused delayed payments, poor communication and inadequate responses to applications says Dep Stanley.
“Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn now says that he hopes a further 33,000 applications will be processed by Christmas.
“This means that around 30,000 students won’t get a response until next year. This is a national scandal. The Minister has allowed this farcical situation to develop while he took his eye off the ball,” Dep Stanley says.
In Laois 957 applications are still in process while there are 1,149 waiting in Offaly.
The Sinn Féin TD has been contacted by many worried parents and students who have been left in “dire straits”, with little money to live on.
“Many parents, some barely surviving on welfare benefits, are now being forced to hand out money for deposits and weekly accommodation costs, travel, books, food etc to their sons and daughters in college.
“Students have contacted me to say that their places in college or in their accommodation will soon be in jeopardy unless they get their grants soon. This is a disgraceful situation and the Minister needs to act quickly on this situation which is now at crisis level,” he said.
The Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) is the new single awarding authority for all new grant application for 2012/13. Up to now students applied through their local VECs or county councils. The new system is only handling first year student grant applications.
Last February when the announcement was made that City of Dublin VEC was the chosen location for grant applications, it was termed a “retrograde step” by the chairperson of Laois VEC, Cllr Mary Sweeney, and she says unfortunately her fears have come true.
“I am dreadfully disappointed about this decision to take the grants away from local authorities, it was a hastily thought out decision. We are getting a huge amount of queries from students who are disappointed, frustrated, and have been reduced to begging from their parents or other people.
“I am aware that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has expressed his disappointment and has promised to amend the process, but that’s not good enough for students.
“They are already facing a lot of huge changes. I would be very anxious that the whole situation is resolved as soon as possible, at least to get the first porportion out,” said the Fine Gael Cllr, who planned to raise the issue at this week’s meeting of Laois VEC.
She points out that the SUSI system is only affecting first year students, while students registered with the VEC and local authorities from previous years have had their grants processed as normal.
“That just shows how functional that system was,” she said.
The SUSI support line is 0761 087874, or email firstname.lastname@example.org