Emails sent to Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris have revealed some of the barriers facing third-level students when it comes to accessing financial support for their studies.
Students who are unemployed, homeless, or parents of young children are among those who wrote to Mr Harris last summer about the Susi grant for third-level education.
Students whose parents’ employment was severely affected by Covid and students who could not afford their postgraduate fees were also among those who wrote to the minister, emails released under Freedom of Information reveal.
One student told the minister that their only guardian “completely abandoned” them, with no money, support, or care. The Post Leaving Cert student endured “years of mental abuse” and two incidents of physical abuse.
The student’s guardian will not permit attendance at college and refuses to sign Susi forms.
The student has no other form of financial support.
“I am terrified of the alternatives and what will happen to me," said the email.
Another prospective student wrote to the minister, saying a return to study to become a teacher was impossible as they were deemed ineligible for funding by Susi after earning €3,500 above the grant threshold.
“I am being penalised for working on minimum wage in hospitality on a part-time basis," said the email.
Another postgraduate student said she could not afford her €7,000 tuition fees, even with a grant of €2,000.
Her family is homeless, and her mother is a lone parent of three who was receiving social welfare payments. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the student's campus would not be fully open, she added, saying she faced paying for facilities she could not use.
Another student told the minister that she will still have to pay €6,000 to finish her master's degree even though it is primarily online this year.
Her family’s main source of income is through their rented pub, closed since last March. Susi denied her application as both her parents have been receiving the Covid payment, which amounts to €700 a week.
As of last November, the Department of Further and Higher Education had received over 300 emails in relation to the Susi grant applications and appeals.
The documents paint a very bleak picture of a student grant system that is cold, conservative, unfit for purpose, and in urgent need of reform, according to Emer Tóibín, Aontú councillor for Meath.
“Minister Harris must provide an immediate update on what is actually happening in terms of Susi reform,” said Ms Tóibín.
Separate figures released to Peadar Tóibín, the leader of Aontú, show that more than 2,000 students initially awarded funding for the academic year have since become ineligible.
In Budget 2021, Mr Harris secured a commitment to begin an independent review of the scheme, which is currently underway. Over 250 submissions have been received so far.
“The final report will be presented to the minister later this year and will inform future considerations regarding the development of student grant policy,” said a spokesperson for the department.