More than 6,000 students are still waiting for decisions on their grant applications with just three months left in the college year, as they struggle with money issues amid assessments and end-of-year exams.
As an independent review gets under way into the problems in the first year of Student Universal Support Ireland, the agency revealed that 6,145 applications have yet to be finalised.
SUSI was heralded as making the grant process quicker and easier when it was launched by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn last summer. However, it now plans to have outside agency staff on standby in case backlogs like those experienced by thousands of students since last autumn arise later this year.
Latest figures show 27,281 students have received grants up to midweek, 7,383 have had their fees paid, and 2,037 are due a grant once their banking details are submitted. The agency said the outstanding applications require final information or documents to be provided before they can be assessed.
However, part of the review by Accenture Ireland will examine why students were asked to send in paperwork they had already submitted. The review is due to take four weeks and will be provided to the Department of Education and later published.
A backlog of applications forced Mr Quinn to increase the student assistance fund distributed in colleges from €8m to €11m last month.
Cork Institute of Technology’s access office has been inundated with applications to the fund from students waiting for grants, with numbers being given help set to rise from 300 last year to more than 400.
“They might have had help from their families in the first few months but they were really struggling as they faced into the second term without any payment,” said access officer Deirdre Creedon.
The review has been commissioned by City of Dublin VEC, which set up the support agency to take over all grants from 66 councils and VECs over the next few years. The body had to get department approval for additional staff when the backlog in grant applications emerged last autumn.
However, the support agency will soon issue a contract to in-source about 20 administrative staff later this year, when it will handle renewal of this year’s first-time recipients as well as first-time grant applicants.
The in-sourced staff may be brought in to help with provisional assessment of applications, send out requests for supporting documents, or decide if students qualify for a grant. However, this will not effect the agency’s three-year contract with private firm Abtran which already does some pre-assessment work.
SUSI has agreed more sharing of information with Revenue Commissioners, the CAO, and Department of Social Protection that may reduce the amount of paperwork applicants will need to submit in future.
Students in receipt of grants before last year will continue to have renewal applications handled by councils and VECs.
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