1 in 5 still without grants

Enda Kenneally

Close to the end of the first term of college, shocking news has been released by the Department of Education which reveals that although 60,000 students have applied for grant assistance this year, around 13,000 (or one in five) have yet to get their grant processed. This fact has left many students struggling to stay in college and the prospect of having to drop out has become more of an unfortunate alternative to many students.

The Vocational Education Committees, which process grant applications, have been shown to be worse in Dublin, Kildare and in Cork. It is hoped that the Student Support Bill will help to address this issue in future.

Padraig Rice, the Students Union’s Welfare Officer, stated that the delay was a ‘disgrace’ that some grants have not been processed as it is already December and he argued that the grants should have been ‘processed months ago’. He has had many students pass through his office because of the difficulty of either staying or surviving in college.

This reflects high dropout rates throughout the country and some students in UCC are even considering moving home until their grant comes through. The Welfare Office also advises students on ‘their credit options’ and Rice also indicated that some students are directed to the Saint Vincent de Paul such is their financial difficulty.

UCC Student Union President Keith O’Brien expressed surprise because he feels that grants are usually well processed. O’Brien feels that this issue ‘highlights acute problems in the grants system’ such as staff cuts in offices dealing with grants and the increased number of grants that have to be processed.

The underlying fundamental problem with the grants system is the ‘bureaucracy’ that arises from the many different agencies involved in the grants procedure. The grant system in Ireland is currently operating through 66 different agencies across the country and continues to lead to long delays for students in receiving their grants.

The Student Support Bill would half the amount of grant awarding authorities to 33 or less, and reduce the number of grant schemes from four to one. Mr. O’ Brien makes the case for the centralisation of the grants process. The Student’s Union in UCC has been communicating these issues to politicians.

Mr O’ Brien also detailed how he has ‘sent letters and e-mails to every councillor in the Cork County’, how he has ‘set up meetings with TDs and has regular meetings with the Lord Mayor of Cork’. O’Brien praised the students of UCC because the recent protests gave voice to the strong feelings held by students on the financial situation facing students in Cork.

On a positive note, O’Brien hailed the lobbying around the Student Support Bill as a ‘significant victory’ and he estimated that the Bill will be signed by Christmas. Indeed, the political reaction to the problem of processing grants nationally has ranged from shock to calls for reform.

The USI successfully made TDs aware of the problems faced by students awaiting grants and the Student Support Bill enjoyed cross party support. This will help students in the future as it is predicted that by 2011, over half of students will be seeking a grant.

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