More than 2,000 third level students from all across Tipperary are finding themselves in dire financial situations as Christmas approaches due to the non-payment of substantial grants owed to them for the last four months.
Many of the students, who are living away from home, are having to turn to food boxes and organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul in order to survive during the week, with any personal funding they may have had going towards paying for accommodation and college resources. And, sadly a number have been forced to drop out of their chosen courses because they simply cannot afford to stay in college.
The disasterous situation has come about following a move by the Department of Education and Skills to change the payment of grants from a VEC based scheme to a specially established organisation known as SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland). But, as Councillor Noel O’Dwyer quipped during a debate on the subject at a meeting of Thurles Town Council this week, the theme tune for the organisation should “If you knew SUSI like I Know SUSI” - in a puned reference to the popular hit song made famous by Al Jolson and Dean Martin. The students of Tipperary know all too well about SUSI and are up in arms about the non payment of their grants.
Deputy Michael Lowry highlighted the gravity of the delays within the Student Grant system and said that of the 2,600 student grant applications from Tipperary, only 490 have been processed and awarded to date.
“We now find ourselves in a position whereby it is nearing years end and only a paltry 490 grants have been awarded out of the total 2,632 applications received from students across Co. Tipperary. This means a huge portion of Tipperary students are still in limbo, awaiting a decision on the status of their grant. They are now facing the realisation that grants will not be awarded prior to Christmas and it may be some time into the New Year before the delay in the system is tackled and all grant applications resolved.”
“This new system was supposed to streamline and simplify the system in place. Instead it is doing nothing but fostering confusion and creating hardship for strained students and families. The reality is that it simply cannot cope with the volume of applications received. As result of the backlog in SUSI, we now have a situation where students are attending college with an axe hanging over their heads whereby they will not know for some months if their grants will be approved and if they can continue with their courses,” he said.
Thurles Town Councillor John Kenehan tabled a Notice of Motion at the monthly meeting of the local authority calling on the Minister to reverse cuts to the third level student maintenance grants, to maintain the fees at the present level and to retain the student assistance fund.
“It costs 30,000 Euro to put students through third level and it is very small money to maintain a grant rather than losing the whole investment by having someone pull out of college. People are having to drop out of college and that is very regrettable,” said Cllr Kenehan who came in for criticism from some members of the council given that it is his party colleague, Minister Quinn, who is administering the cuts. However, Cllr Kenehan reponded to the criticism by stating that he had challenged Labour colleagues in the past on issues he believed in and would do so again if the need arises.
Cllr Gerard Fogarty described SUSI as “a shambles” and said that what is happening with students is appalling. “The Minister should hang his head in shame because these cuts are putting huge pressure on students who are experiencing great hardship as a result,” he said.
Cllrs David Doran, Jim Ryan , John Kennedy and Noel O’Dwyer supported Cllr Kenehans motion with Cllr Ryan stating that many students are “living on pasta and tomato sauce.” Cllr Kenehan added that it was important for the local authority to show solidarity with students. He had “butted heads” with Minister Quinn on this and many other subjects, he said, and had offered a view at a meeting of North Tipperray VEC, when SUSI was being mooted, that it would not do as efficient and effective a job as the VEC had done for many years.
Tipperary students in the meantime are suffering, and suffering greatly.