Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn last week stated that a number of Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grants will not be paid until the New Year. This comes just a week after both Quinn and Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that all grants which had been delayed as a result of the problems with the SUSI system would be in students’ bank accounts by Christmas.
UCD Students’ Union Education Officer Shane Comer has described the situation as “absolutely shambolic”, stating that this is “just another nail in the coffin of Ruairi Quinn’s standing among students.”
Comer said that the main reason given to students for the delays is students’ failure to include the proper documentation in their application, however he does not believe that this is the real problem. “I’ve had many students who said they sent the full documentation and been asked to send more when there’s nothing left to send. So I don’t think it’s fair of SUSI to put the blame with students. I do believe it’s mainly the inaction of SUSI and the Minister of Education that has led to the problems with SUSI.”
The Minister for Education has admitted that the SUSI office is understaffed and while originally he had provided 20 extra staff, this has now been upped to 50 additional staff, but Comer stated that this is still not enough. “Unfortunately from what’s been said by Quinn and An Taoiseach, what they’re tying to do is look for a quick fix. They’ve admitted they failed, they’ve admitted the system failed, but apologising isn’t going to do anything, it isn’t going to help students who can’t afford to eat, who can’t afford rent, who can’t afford necessary textbooks. The additional staff is only a stopgap measure.”
Quinn also stated that he would “be constantly monitoring that and monitoring the volume of processing that is taking place”. Within the past week 2000 applications were processed, however this would not be sufficient to clear the blockage before Christmas.
Only 400 grant payments have been approved in UCD, which means those students have had their student contribution charge covered by the grant, however there are no figures for those who have received their maintenance grants. There has been a massive backlog across the country, according to the Dublin VEC Chief Executive Jacinta Stewart who said last week that of 66,0000 applications received, 20,350 are at reward stage, 25,310 are being processed and 20,500 applications are awaiting documentation from students.
Students nationwide have been affected by the SUSI delays, with USI President John Logue claiming that students are dropping out of college because they cannot afford to be there without their grant payment. In UCD, students were being blocked out of the library as their fees had not been paid as a result of the delays, however Comer has met with UCD and the library to come to an arrangement that these students will be granted access until their grant comes through. “There’s normally a grace period with fees and that ends in the 5th week of term, and we’ve managed to extend that to the end of January. Students on SUSI will be granted access to the library because of that.”
Comer believes this is “just another example of Ruairi Quinn failing students” and cites the rising registration fees, cuts to the maintenance grant in the last budget, and the refusal to increase the amount of money allocated to the grant fund despite the number of applicants increasing each year, as a number of other factors contributing to Quinn’s failure in his duties to students.