As a result of the delays in processing the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant applications, there has been an “unprecedented rise” in the number of applications to the Student Welfare Fund, according to Students’ Union Welfare Officer Mícheál Gallagher.
The Student Welfare Fund is an emergency fund, designed for students who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of unforeseen circumstances such as illness, bereavement in the family, or sudden and unexpected unemployment.
The Student Welfare Fund committee and Dr Martin Butler, the Vice- President for Students, have decided students experiencing financial difficulties arising as a result of the delays in SUSI grant payments can now apply for the Student Welfare Fund, as “UCD is very concerned by the hardship caused.”
Applications made as a result of the SUSI delays will be “fast-tracked” according to Gallagher, “to make sure students aren’t stressed financially during the most critical point of the year: exam time.” This money will be paid in the same manner as all Student Welfare Fund grants, and students will not be expected to pay back the money to the Fund once their SUSI grant payment is processed.
This decision was taken when those in charge of the SUSI system admitted that though they hope to have the majority of the applications processed and paid by the end of the year, a large number of them will be left unpaid into the New Year. Gallagher explained: “Several government ministers have already indicated now, including Minister Quinn, that a high number of SUSI applications won’t be processed until January… This money is for the students because they are experiencing direct financial hardship at the moment and it’s designed to help them get through their exams.”
As well as fast-tracking Welfare Fund payments, the decision has been taken to reintroduce the Student Assistance Fund, which wasn’t due to run this year as there was no chairperson for the committee and there was a delay in allocating the money for the fund from the European Social Fund (ESF). The money has, up until now, been administered through the Welfare Fund, however, this only allows for unexpected hardship.
This proved a problem for the committee who are now allocating a portion of the ESF money to a means-tested Student Assistance Fund. Gallagher explained: “We decided that the distinction needed to be brought back in because there are a lot of students who are facing hardship, not because of any unexpected circumstances. There was a need for a fund that’s there to assist students who are experiencing financial hardship just due to a direct reflection of their current economic situation; so expectedly having no money.”
The Student Assistance Fund will be operating and accepting applications from this week, with the information about the fund being circulated through an all-student email from Dr Butler as soon as applications open. It will be administered online, with applications being submitted through SIS Web, as has been the case for the last number of years. This is in contrast to the Welfare Fund, which accepts applications via the Welfare Officer.
UCD Students’ Union will be running a campaign in the first week of the second semester to help students learn to cope with financial strain, and to assist them in budgeting upon receiving their overdue grant payment in one single payment. Gallagher commented: “It’ll include a cheap lifestyle guide on how to spend money sensibly … Also we’re inviting MABS (Money, Advice and Budgeting Services) in to do workshops for these students who are getting their SUSI grants in one unexpected payment.”