By Noel Dundon
Applicants for third level grants processed by North Tipperary Vocational Education Committee have been told this week that delays of “months rather than weeks” are to be expected in the sanctioning of the monies due to technology and staffing issues.
However, Chief Executive Officer of the VEC, Mr David Leahy has moved to reassure applicants that anyone who is entitled to a grant will get their monies, back dated, and fully paid up.
“Anyone who is entitled to a grant will get their grant. We may have delays and people will be worried - I am aware of that and fully appreciate that. But, the grants will be paid to anyone who is entitled to one, and they will be back dated if necessary. The philosophy here is that we give grants wherever possible within the parameters of the rules,” Mr Leahy said at the monthly meeting of the VEC this week.
The CEO said that there had been significant changes to the scheme which affect those who are in third level education already, as well as new applicants. The grants programme is not as further progressed as the VEC would like at this stage of the year and although it is not yet behind where it was at the same time last year, there will be significant delays nonetheless.
Mr Leahy explained that the VEC has utilised an IT programme similar to Dublin VEC and has been the first VEC in the country to use it, outside of Dublin. However, there have been “a few gremlins” in the system and these has taken time to sort out. Also, staffing issues have arisen and the authority is not entitled to front-end-load working hours for staff to allow for the clearance of the backlog.
“The staff are working as hard as they can but we are not in a position to offer overtime or additional hours now in lieu of time off later on in the year. That is not allowed now and at this stage I am just flagging with people that there will be delays with processing the grant applications. It might seem strange to be doing it in September but it is no harm to get the message out there so that students are not worrying about it. We have extended the closing date to the end of October from August 31st to allow for late CAO offers,” Mr Leahy said.
Cllr Conor Delaney had asked if there was any indication as to how long the delays would be. He was informed that the delay would be months rather than weeks. Cllr Michael Connell appreciated the fact that the VEC was flagging the problem in advance and moving to reassure everyone - this in itself is a positive move, he said.
Councillor John Kenehan expressed disappointment that the mature student grant scheme has been removed from the system and said that this has had severe implications for many who are no longer able to continue in education. He called for a letter to be sent to the Minister in relation to this issue. Cllr Virginia O’Dowd agreed with him, and both were informed by the CEO that in cases of recognised hardship, there is some degree of leniency.
Cllr Seamie Morris said that it is very frustrating for students living independently of their parents to have to be means tested through their parents up to the age of 24. It is a ridiculous situation, he said, where people are not deemed independent at 24 years of age.
Chairman of the VEC Mr Willie Kennedy, in reassuring applicants, said that it should be remembered that North Tipperary has a very good record when it comes to processing grants. He added the situation is a bit different this year, but said that people would get their grants if they were entitled to them. He called for patience on the part of members and applicants, but acknowledged at the same time that students badly require the funding as well.