Deputy Lowry has criticised what he described as the farcical and shambolic backlog of Student Grant applicants currently awaiting a decision from the awarding body, SUSI.
The Independent T.D. for North Tipperary explained that this nationalised body has taken over the awarding of all Student Grant applications, a power which was previously vested in Local Authorities and VEC’s. Deputy Lowry stated that of the 65,000 applications received by SUSI for this academic year, less than 5,000 have been approved to date resulting in huge stress, upset and concern for students and families still awaiting a decision.
Deputy Lowry explained: “My office is overwhelmed at present with queries from applicants who are in an increasingly precarious financial situation whilst they await the decision on their student grant application. They all report long delays in getting through to SUSI and a lack of clear information when they call. The early months in college are very testing for students and are often the most expensive with deposits to be paid, books and materials to be bought and college homes to be stocked. Additional financial worries at this already stressful time is the last thing that students need.”
“The student grants process is quite complex, with a number of hoops that must be jumped through and a number of boxes ticked before a decision can be made. The difficulty with the current system is that it is hugely difficult for applicants to access accurate, up to date information on the status of their application or what steps they need to bring it to completion. It is very difficult to get clear advice. Before SUSI the applicant could contact their local awarding authority, whether Council or VEC and speak to an individual with specialised knowledge of the system and of their specific case. This valuable experience and years of knowledge by those who processed grants for many years has now been lost and an inadequate system put in place.”
“This new system as 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. In these difficult times the difference between securing a grant on time can be the difference between being able to complete a year in college or not.”
“It has been claimed by Government Ministers that the fault lies with applicants who do not submit all required evidence but it is my belief that the blame cannot be levelled with applicants who have no knowledge of the system. SUSI is supposed to guide and assist these students rather than tying them up in knots with conflicting reports and no clear information on the exact documentation required. We have a ridiculous situation where someone applies online and is then told to post in the required information. What frequently follows then is an absurd toing and froing through the post with the information being sought and sent, and more information being sought again.”
“I have called on the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn T.D. to take responsibility for this system and to take immediate steps to ensure that all remaining cases are examined and addressed as swiftly as possible The Minister had stated that this system would end the hardship in applying for a Student Grant this unfortunately could not be further from the truth.”