As UCDSU call for a full enquiry into the money spent on the administration of grants, Bridget Fitzsimons looks at the current system and questions its feasibility
No one can say that the current grants system is successful. When the economic climate was less harsh, students often had to wait weeks into the semester for their grant cheques. This problem has only gotten worse as the recession has furthered. Some students are still waiting for their first grant installments, even though we are now into semester two. For students struggling to make ends meet, the results of UCD Students’ Union’s survey of county councils’ administration costs for grants were a slap in the face.
The discrepancies were huge. From Westmeath’s relatively modest sum of €70.51 per student to North Tipperary’s indulgent €484.25, there really is no concrete amount for how much it should cost to process a grant. Clearly, the costs incurred by North Tipperary are ludicrous. In listening to figures like this, grant recipients will undoubtedly agree with SU President Gary Redmond’s calls for a centralised grants system.
Redmond estimates that a centralised system might save the Irish government €20 million, and that it would eliminate much of the red tape that seems to infest the current grants process. To centralise the process will undoubtedly make it easier and cheaper for the government at a time when every penny matters.
However, there is still the issue of time. First year students cannot apply for third level grants until they are offered and have accepted their CAO place, which is sometimes as little as a week before they start college. The administration involved means that students will never be able to get grants when they need them. In a centralised system, students would be able to apply for grants earlier, giving governmental bodies far more time to process claims and allow students to be able to have access to money when they need it. The start of the semester is the most costly – registration fees are paid and books and materials are purchased. Why should students wait until December for money they needed in September?
The very fact that those who are worst off are unable to get access to this vital money means that the grants system is in dire need of overhaul. A centralised system would destroy much of the bureaucracy that is preventing students from being able to pay their way through college. Added up, North Tipperary’s administration costs of €254,716.03 are laughable. If this County Council had properly used their resources, many more students would be able to avail of grants at a time when they need them most.
An economic downturn is a time to save, not a time to be rash and wasteful of money. A centralised system would save the government money, make things easier for students, and allow the college system to run more smoothly. We can only hope that the promised enquiry into the grants system will mean more convenience for students, savings for the government and a destruction of the red tape that is stopping us from being able to properly live while in full-time education.