Up to 2,000 students from across Mayo are still waiting for their grant applications to be processed by the new centralised student grant system, SUSI, which was set up this year by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairi Quinn TD. As many as 50,000 students nationwide are still waiting for their grants, which is resulting in students being forced to drop out of college because they cannot afford to pay rent or fees.
Students’ Union President at the Castlebar campus of GMIT, Clare Lawlor said that she has been inundated with students contacting her about the disastrous new grant system. She said that students are constantly trying to contact SUSI however they can not get through to receive any information. Others have received letters from SUSI asking for them to send documents which they have already sent. “It’s an absolute joke”, said Ms Lawlor.
There has been a huge increase in those asking for assistance from the Student Assistance Fund, which is available for those who are suffering financial difficulties. Due to the delay in getting access to their grants many students “have no income at all”. Ms Lawlor said that some students in Castlebar are so broke at the moment that they cannot afford to eat or drive to college. As she explained there is a large percentage of mature students attending the college and therefore they are attempting to continue attending college without their grant while also trying to fend for their families.
Ms Lawlor said that she is also aware of people who have dropped out of GMIT in Castlebar. “Currently there are 331 students not registered and we (the SU ) can assume that the majority of them are waiting for their grants from SUSI. There are also a number of students who have left due to lack of grant and we fear there may be more with the intense pressure of Christmas approaching, they just can't afford to go to college, feed themselves or support their family without it.”
Local Sinn Féin councillor Thérèse Ruane said: “Students are totally frustrated and at their wits end with this.” Cllr Ruane said that she was contacted by a young woman “who is parenting alone and went back to education to improve her employment opportunities, and escape the poverty trap, but is now facing being forced to drop out as she cannot afford to feed her children. She is under awful stress as a result of her financial situation. She applied for her grant in June of this year and it still hasn't been processed. I've been contacted by many students in Mayo in a similar situation.”
The councillor added: “The impact of this on students and their families is considerable. The minister brought in this new system and the minister has responsibility to ensure that the system meets the goals and targets set for it.”
Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary has stated that “students and their parents in Mayo have been abandoned spectacularly by Minister Quinn and his colleagues.”
Deputy Calleary said: “The minister is essentially reintroducing third level fees through the back door. He already increased the student registration fee by €250 this year and he plans to increase it by a further €750 over the next three years. That’s a massive hike of over €1,000 in the lifetime of this government. He abolished post-graduate grants, thereby putting further education out of the reach of many students who want to up-skill here in Ireland. And he is planning to single out farming and self-employed families for deeply unfair grant cuts, by including capital assets in the means-testing for third level grants.”
The Union of Students in Ireland is also calling on the Minister not to cut the grant in Budget 2013.