Independent TD Mattie McGrath has welcomed the admission by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn that his Department grossly misjudged the ability of Dublin VEC to efficiently implement the operations of the new Higher Education Grants body SUSI:
“The Minister has come to this recognition very late in the day when the pure dysfunctionality of SUSI has already caused untold distress to students and their families. While I welcome the Ministers renewed commitment to avoid the farce that we witnessed last year, I along with many others will have to wait to see if there is a sufficient level of follow through with it. After all, this is the same Minister who publicly pledged to students that there would be no rise in Third Level registration fees.”
Tens of thousands of students applying for funding suffered lengthy delays in receiving their grants under the new Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) system and some were forced to drop out of college because of the financial burden. The centralised system was established last year to replace applications to individual local authorities but by November just a third of the 60,000, applications had been processed:
“My office has been overwhelmed with pleas from desperate students and their parents who were left in an impossible position last year because of this whole debacle. I met with SUSI management in early February to discuss the situation and try and organise a series of solutions that would prevent a similar re-occurrence. I am delighted that both SUSI and the Minister have taken on board the suggestions that I brought to the table which included SUSI opting to liaise directly with Revenue and with Social Welfare for information. The current system had students trying to liaise with these different agencies, which was causing huge delays and confusion as many students were unclear of exactly what was required,” said Deputy McGrath.
Minister Quinn has said he “will take whatever steps were necessary to ensure we improve the service”. SUSI’s workload is set to be even bigger next year, as its responsibility expands: for 2012-13 the body was responsible only for applications from students in the first year of their course. Next year it will cater to existing applicants as well as new First Years:
“The fact that SUSI will now have responsibility for an increased number of applications is a source of unease to say the least. One would have thought that it would have been necessary to try and minimise that number while the apparently new and robust efficiency measures are tested in practice. For now however we will just have to hope that the solutions presented by those of us who are actively concerned about this issue will be given all the support necessary to avoid us being back in this situation a year from now,” concluded Deputy McGrath.