Grant system errors acknowledged

The chaotic state of the college grant system was revealed yesterday amid warnings that students could be forced to drop out unless the backlog is cleared.

An Oireachtas education committee meeting, which was attended by officials from Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), was told of documents being lost, one student being sent back someone else’s birth certificate, and others being paid the wrong rate.

One parent was asked for documents in August — two months after she had submitted them. But when Senator Maria Moloney checked the tracking on the mother’s registered letter, she found they had been signed for at Abtran, the Cork company to which SUSI has outsourced the checking of documents.

“Ye did get them, ye did lose them, there’s no two ways about it. It’s just not good enough,” she told SUSI officials. TDs and senators called the officials in after receiving hundreds of complaints over delays.

One of the biggest issues has been requests from SUSI, a unit of City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC), for documents already supplied.

Details were given by Fine Gael TD Ray Butler of a student whose parents were told that somebody else had the same PPS number they supplied for him. Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said one student was sent back another applicant’s paper work, including a birth certificate, while others who were awarded the grant were paid the rate for studying near home when they were at a college 150km away.

Only 3,010 of the 45,600 applicants whose documents have been verified have received a grant payment and, after getting approval for more than 100 extra staff, SUSI says 30,000 people should have their grants by Christmas.

CDVEC principal officer, Kay Cullinan, said just one formal complaint has been received about lost documents. But SUSI unit manager, Tom Prizeman, said they had investigated a number of calls to Abtran on this, and documents could not be found in only one instance.

CDVEC chief executive, Jacinta Stewart, admitted mistakes had been made but insisted applicants need to get all documents in before applications can progress.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman, Charlie McConalogue, who tabled a Dáil motion calling for SUSI to be given enough staff to address the backlog, said he cannot see it being cleared by Christmas.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn apologised for the fiasco but stressed SUSI had been fully resourced. He said he still believes it was correct to move grants to a single awarding body.

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