The cost of processing student grants in Westmeath is the lowest in the country, according to new figures released this week.
The average cost of processing each grant in Westmeath comes in at €64.59. In contrast, at the other end of the scale the figure for South Tipperary is a massive €270.57.
The figures, which give a breakdown of the total number of applicants received by each local authority, the number of successful applications, and the cost of processing them, reveal a vast difference between counties when it comes to the cost per head of processing third level grants.
In total it cost taxpayers more than €5 million last year to process applications to the 66 local authorities and VECs that handle grants.
The figures also reveal there was an increase of 18 per cent in the number of students who applied for grants between 2008 and 2009. The average cost of processing a grant application dropped from €177.31 in 2008 to €150.20 last year.
According to president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI ), Gary Redmond, the disparities between local authorities are worrying. He called for a centralised grant authority to deal with all applications.
“Even though Westmeath and Mayo process almost exactly the same number of applications (769 and 753 respectively ), Westmeath is over €101 cheaper than Mayo,” he said, pointing out that while the highest success rate was in Westmeath at 87 per cent, the lowest was in Mayo at 69 per cent.
“These figures back USI’s calls for a centralised grant authority as they prove that the more applications a unit processes the cheaper it becomes. This can be seen from the fact that even though Mayo received a 43 per cent increase in applications, the cost of processing each form reduced by almost €124,” said Mr Redmond.
“Based on these figures, we can surmise that the State could save over €5 million per annum by establishing a centralised grant authority – if all grant applications could be processed at the County Westmeath rate.
“The current grants system is seriously flawed. It is inefficient and unsustainable and desperately needs to be reformed.”