The Failings of the SUSI Grant System

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I thank the delegation for attending the meeting at such short notice. It is disappointing, however, we do not have any Department officials or the Minister here which is a matter the committee should consider. The questions about students’ access to services, sitting examinations at Christmas and submitting projects can only be answered by the Minister. It is not the job of Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, to answer these questions. I have had telephone calls and e-mails about students dropping out because they cannot submit projects due this week. The committee needs to call in the Department, the Higher Education Authority and the institutes of technology to sort out how this is causing distress to students as it appears it will continue for several weeks.

 

In theory the centralised system is good and City of Dublin VEC is the right organisation to run it as it has a good track record in this area. My concern is that from the very start it was not given the resources it needed to properly process these claims. This is evident from the fact staffing levels have changed several times since this started. Ms Stewart informed the committee how many extra staff she has been given. How many did she ask for? How many staff does SUSI need to ensure every application is decided on by Christmas? As Deputy Clare Daly pointed out, on SUSI’s best estimate there will still be thousands of students who will not have a grant by Christmas. It is important the committee is given the information it needs to put pressure on a cross-party basis on the Department to ensure SUSI is given the staff it needs to sort out this mess.

 

The delegation pointed out that there is only one formal complaint of lost documents. I have had several complaints to my office about documents being lost in the system. Is this an issue with quality checking with the external provider? I appreciate quality analysis was part of the original tender. What quality monitoring process is in place now?

 

In regard to providing services in colleges, during my time as an elected representative at Trinity College, the students’ union, and its welfare officers in particular, were at the front line of helping students. I understand that SUSI has not yet put a system in place, which is a big gap. Will Ms Stewart consider putting such a system in place so that student union welfare officers can assist students? Will she ensure that more information is given out over helplines? The usual reply I receive to inquiries is that SUSI has issued a response to the student concerned, which is not particularly helpful because I am then required to get back in touch with the student to identify the gaps. If SUSI is going to deal with public representatives it must be able to provide an adequate amount of information.

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