FIRST-time Laois third level students and their families are being crippled by a cash crisis and in extreme cases are even being forced to abandon their studies over a protracted delay in dealing with grant applications.
Laois VEC members were highly critical of SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) – the new authority charged with processing grant applications – during their meeting at Portarlington Adult Education Centre on Monday, November 19.
VEC Chairperson Cllr Mary Sweeney said it was “an unacceptable and retrograde step” and she was aware extra staff were been taken on to deal with the backlog.
She said when grant applications were being dealt with by the VEC’s and County Councils “the staff couldn’t help enough” and she regretted that Government had gone down this road.
Cllr Sweeney added: “It was always going to be slow at the start and teething problems were inevitable. Students and parents are frustrated and disappointed and I hope SUSI gets its act together. It is very easy put a first year student off course with this type of difficulty and hopoefully it will be resolved as soon as possible.”
Almost 1,000 first-year Laois third level students have yet to see their grant application processed. They are struggling financially and Cllr Alan Hand said the situation was having a serious impact on the ground.
“There is a big flaw in the system and it is very regrettable. I believe 9,000 students have been refused nationally and they will appeal, so there will be further backlogs.”
Cllr Hand added: “Students rely on their grant. I know one girl who was attending college in Galway and she had to come home. Another has quit and is emigrating. I know parents who won’t stop short of selling their furniture to help their kids.”
Laois County Council Cathaoirleach Paul Mitchell said it was a scandalous situation, particularly for families whose circumstances may have changed in recent months, and he couldn’t understand why applications were not sorted out much quicker. He suggested that an upfront payment of €500 should be made available to keep students ticking over.
“I got a grant myself when I was going to college and it was vital in helping me go on and become a teacher,” commented Cllr Mitchell.
CEO Anne O’Keeffe said the scheme was previously administered by sixty agencies and that teething problems were to be expected. “When bedded down, SUSI will be a good system.”
Cllr Pat Bowe, citing the HSE as an example, insisted that centralisation just doesn’t work.
“There is pandemonium. I know of a widow who is giving up her pension to educate her children. It can’t continue. SUSI doesn’t have the experience or the wealth of knowledge that the VECs and County Councils have in dealing with grant applications. Why change? I’m hearing about application forms going missing. That never happened with the VECs or County Councils. They have a proven track record.”
Cllr Bowe concluded: “What is happening with SUSI is a sham. It is disgraceful.”