NORTH Tipperary VEC has called on Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn to pay grants to any student who applied for one under the new SUSI system. The centralised system has come in for huge criticism because of delays in paying third level student grants this year, with thousands still waiting on word about their application.
Labour’s Cllr Virginia O’Dowd proposed a motion at the January meeting of the VEC that Minister Quinn give a directive to Dublin City VEC, who are administering the scheme, and the Department that all grant applications be paid immediately.
“The majority who apply for a grant will qualify for one,” she said, adding that the previous system should not have been changed because it was “not broken”.
She also pointed out that North Tipperary VEC had offered assistance to Dublin City VEC to administer the grants, but that offer had been refused.
Cllr O’Dowd said she knew of students who were having to lodge with friends because landlords had evicted them from their apartments.
“Landlords are throwing them out because they can’t pay the rent,” she stated.
Her proposal was seconded by Thurles Mayor Cllr Michael Cleary.
Cllr Seamus Morris asked that it be amended to include a call on the Minister to urge colleges to “excercise restraint” when dealing with students who had not received their grant. He also urged colleges to put a system in place that would allow people to pay fees on a monthly basis while they were awaiting grant approval.
VEC chief executive David Leahy said: “I can’t defend the indefensible. I wish I could offer a defence, but I can’t and I won’t.”
He said that all VECs were now being viewed negatively because of the handling of the issue.
Opening the debate, Cllr Morris claimed that “horrific pain is being inflicted on families and students” under the new system.
“They are in a horrific place. The attitude on the phone when I have rang about cases has not been good. They tendered for it ad said they could deliver. Heads should roll,” he said. “It is nothing short of a disaster.”
The Sinn Fein councillor said he didn’t think the administrators had the rght to blame students and their families for not sending in documents.
“All I’m hearing is that people need to send in the documents. I know people who have sent in documents three and four times. It is an insult to people who have sent in documents when it is they who have failed to deliver,” he said.
Cllr John Kennedy, Labour, said the situation had “gone beyond a joke”. He urged that the VEC ask Minister Quinn to revert to the previous system next year and “bring it back to local people on the ground”.
Templemore’s Cllr Mick Connell agreed, with the Fianna Fail representative describing the situation as “disgraceful”.
“We welcomed it when it was first put in place. We were led to believe that you filled it in online and if you ticked the boxes you got your grant. It is annoying me that people are being wheeled out and we are going back to the old game of blaming the student,” he said.
Cllr Connell stated that the previous system was “tried and tested”, but SUSI had proved to be a “disaster”. He said the old system should be back permanently and not just for next year.
Teacher representative Josephine Cahill, Thurles, pointed out that the name of the Vocation Education Committees was being “sullied” everytime SUSI was mentioned, and chairman Willie Kennedy agreed.
“North Tipperary VEC should be proud of the efforts of the staff over the years and can hold our heads high,” said Mr Kennedy.
Cllr John Hogan, Fianna Fail, described the situation as an “absolute shame”, and said students were “going hungry”.
He stated that was made aware of students attending St Sheelin’s College in Templemore who have had to drop out because their grant had not been pa