Failed grants IT system cost department €800k

Technology for the failed online system to process college grants has cost the Department of Education almost €800,000.

Despite the outlay, the online Student Universal Support Ireland will be revamped to include basic questions on whether there is another family member applying, and whether there has been a change to family income.

The system was introduced in June with the promise of making the application process quicker and easier. However, what followed was a debacle that saw lost documentation and thousands of students without payments.

Information submitted to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee from the Department of Education shows that €773,105 was spent on the IT system.

This includes €30,000 on telephony — despite many students and parents saying they spent a lot of time and money trying without success to get through on the phones with queries about their applications.

About €400,000 was spent on IT services including software development, and €270,000 on equipment and infrastructure, which includes the server and storage.

One of the problems with the grants system was although it was branded as an online system, students had to follow through by posting, on average, 12 supporting documents, such as evidence of income and college acceptance forms which, in turn, were scanned into the system.

By Christmas, halfway into the college year, just 25,000 students had received their grants. Nearly all of the 37,000 expected to benefit since have now been paid, with some getting their money just months before the end of the college year.

Figures show 5,275 of about 59,000 students to make applications have appealed decisions to refuse their grants.

Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú told the committee earlier this month that the fact that 3,264 — or 61% of those appeals — succeeded had raised a flag, and the support body has been asked for a report on the reasons.

The committee heard a number of stories about difficulties encountered by students — including one who had to submit her father’s death certificate three times. Under plans for a revamped system, basic questions will be included on the website, including whether there is another family member making an application which can allow the grants’ body carry out a cross-check.


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