Students at Athlone Institute of Technology have been speaking out about the difficulties they have been experiencing with the much criticised SUSI student grant application system.
According to figures obtained by local TD Denis Naughten, just 18 per cent of Westmeath applications - 298 out of 1,646 applications made - have been approved to date.
The figure is similar in Roscommon where 17.5 per cent (202 of 1,153 ) of applications have been approved, with figures of 19 per cent in Offaly and 16 per cent in Longford.
“I have examples of students who applied last June under the new online system who are still waiting for a decision from SUSI... It’s a mess,” said Deputy Naughten.
Many students who have contacted the SUSI helpdesk have also complained of documents being mislaid or of being provided with vague or inaccurate information.
AIT student Ciara Mc Donnell from Ballinasloe, who is a full-time science student and a parent, says the SUSI system has been “a complete nightmare”.
“I have tried and tried and tried to contact SUSI on the phone but no answer, not once but 24 times; not at 9 in the morning or 8 at night did one person answer. When the recording said ‘Leave your number after the beep and a member will get back to you’, music is played and there is no beep. I’ve sent emails, only to get an automatic reply. That was 42 days ago, my second email was 22 days ago, and my most recent 10 days ago, and not one was answered,” says Ciara.
“I only wanted to know where exactly my application was. I sent all my details and got no response - until today, when I opened a letter hoping it would be good news but instead it just said it needed more documents, which I had already sent - originals and copies. My heart sank and I actually cried.
“I am depending on this money for equipment and maths books, travel costs, and more. I am already paying €120 a week towards a creche. I’m not sleeping, and I’m living on €20 a week. I paid €1,250 for my first instalment of fees in case a grant wasn’t accepted. This money is frozen and won’t be paid back to me until the grant is approved. This is money I desperately need for travel and creche, never mind Christmas.
I am tired, so so tired. Not one person can talk to me over the phone or email. I don’t know where I stand. I’ll have dropped out before it’s approved because I can’t handle the cost. The date to leave your course so you will not have to pay fees when you apply for another first year course has gone. I’m stuck.”
First year AIT student Jessica Noonan from Cork says that students are facing “their toughest situation ever”.
“A lot of us students depend on SUSI to pay rent, feed ourselves, and pay bills. We are almost finished our first semester and there is little sign of us getting any payments from our grant. My mother earns less than €10,000 a year and she cannot afford to pay her own bills, never mind pay my rent, bills, and weekly money to live on, so I work as many hours as I can just to get by, and mainly fall short every week.
“I have talked to many students in the very same situation who are feeling depressed, who don’t know if they can keep up their college futures because there is absolutely no money to pay bills, and of course the Government wants to cut our grants; if this goes ahead nearly half the students in AIT will not be in college next year, as they and their family won’t be able to afford it.”