DOZENS of hard-up students are dropping out of college every week because of massive delays in issuing grants.
Maintenance grants are supposed to be paid in three instalments over the academic year. But more than 2,000 students have still not received their first payment, which should been issued in September last year.
Up to 50 students a week have had to quit their courses because they can no longer afford to study, according to the national students’ union.
Demand for college welfare services and emergency financial assistance from the partly EU-backed student assistant fund has never been as high, according to USI president Gary Redmond as desperate students struggle to pay rent, buy necessary academic materials and even feed themselves.
Delays in issuing grants by the 66 state agencies charged with the task is nothing new. But in the past students could rely on picking up part-time work until their first cheque arrived.
With unemployment soaring, many parents are no longer in a position to bail out their offspring.
Up to 80,000 students applied for grants this year — up by 20,000 — adding pressure on the workload of the awarding bodies.
In the case of those studying Masters courses and PhDs, who rely on grants to cover their tuition fees, delays mean that those who are not in a position to pay are denied student cards, meaning they can’t access college libraries, IT rooms and car parks.
Thousands of students, who are living below the breadline but are determined to persevere with their studies, have been forced to take out expensive bank loans, with crippling interest rates of up to 11.5%.
USI president Gary Redmond said: “Welfare officers around all the colleges have never been as busy. There are huge queues of students every day with financial problems.
“I would estimate there are 50 students a week now dropping out and the biggest contributory factor is a lack of money. Regular problems they face are the threat of eviction from landlords because they just can’t come up with the rent.”
UCC welfare office and union vice-president Padraig Rice said: ““We are dealing with a case of two students who are homeless and are seeking aid from the Simon Community.
“On top of that, we’ve noticed high levels of mental health issues around students this year because of financial pressures,” he added.
Trinity College Dublin’s union president, Nikolai Trigoub-Rotnem, said union welfare officers had been swamped by applications for interest-free union loans to help them cover their rents.
Thankfully, the recently-passed Student Support Act, which comes into force next year, will overhaul the antiquated awarding system.
The 66 grant-awarding bodies will be amalgamated into one single awarding body and students will be paid on a monthly basis, thus eliminating delays and saving the state around €5 million annually.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved