Students’ still awaiting maintenance grants three months past application closing date.

By Sorcha Jowitt and Frances Mulraney

Some students are still without their maintenance grants almost three months after the closing date for applications.

Although the exact number of students without grants is still unknown, the Dublin City University fees office pointed out the disadvantages to students.

Deirdre Kelly, DCU Fees Office Manger said, “Unfortunately it is impossible to say how many are still outstanding as most local authorities would not give students a letter of confirmation to say that they had even applied for a grant, so we have no way of tagging them. To date students are allowed attend lectures and library but do not hold a student ID card.”

If students do not pay their fees within the given time frame they may also lose access to their Moodle page.

DCU registry is also unaware of how many students are without their grants but have lists of when the grant cheques are due from the country’s county councils.

The College View attempted to find out the exact number of students without grants at this point in the year by contacting the various county councils and VECs.

Donegal County Council said there was no actual backlog but went on to say that some students may not have received their payments or confirmation:

“Any student who is still awaiting a decision from Donegal County Council has not submitted all the necessary supporting documentation required to award them a grant.”

Students in the area who had completed the form correctly with the correct documentation received their first instalment by October 10.

Fingal County Council refused to comment or give any information on the issue saying they did not have the time to deal with the query.

There has been a drastic increase in recent years in maintenance grant applications. Cork County Council saw an increase of 10 per cent in applications on last year, while in previous years there were increases of up to 30 per cent.  Staff dealing with the increase were described by Donegal County Council as being “under significant pressure to effectively deal with all applicants.”

Higher Education Authority says:

After questioning from the College View on the backlog of students waiting on their maintenance grants, Malcolm Byrne, Head of Communications with the Higher Education Authority (HEA), stated that there has always been a number of students left waiting for grants every year, even before the changes introduced this year.

He continued to say that it is for this reason that the HEA strongly backs the centralisation of the grant system. From this year, the application is to be steadily moved to an online system which will be co-ordinated by the City of Dublin VEC. The HEA strongly supports this move along with the introduction of the Student Support Act this year.

According to Mr Byrne, the centralization of the procedure will ensure that firstly, there is consistency in the system, as the 66 different VEC’s in charge of awarding grants may have varied in their procedure before. It will secondly ensure expertise in the application process, as all the employees of City of Dublin VEC will be trained to a high standard.  Lastly, it will ensure that applications are dealt with on a faster basis than in previous years.

Commenting on the change in qualification rules for this year (students must now live 45km away from college to receive a full grant at the non-adjacent rate), Mr Byrne said that before this year the rule regarding the distance a student lived from there institute of attendance had not changed since the 1960s. If the increase in distance was put into context with the rate of improvement on the country’s infrastructure in these fifty years, then it made sense that the qualification should be changed by this much.

When questioned on the decrease in the maintenance grant this year, Mr. Byrne answered by saying that of course the HEA were not happy that all students could not be in receipt of the maintenance grant but that the government and all those involved in the running of third level must question the way in which resources are spent and there are many challenges faced in these times when money is not readily available.

The context has dramatically changed in the last number of years as the number of those who both apply for the maintenance grant and qualify for it increased dramatically. This increase has meant that in order to stay within budget, changes were inevitable.

Last year, the maintenance grant system paid out over €300 million and went over budget. In order to stop deficits like this again, changes had to be implemented. These changes have unfortunately affected mature students more than others.

REPORTS

The HEA’s sustainability report into third level funding was released this week and has been passed on to the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn.  Mr Byrne also told the College View that a report on mature students will be released soon after.

According to thejournal.ie,  the sustainability report is expected to recommend  an end to the “free fees” scheme or the introduction of a graduate tax.  Without these financial decisions a cap on student numbers is expected to be recommended.

Info box

-to qualify for any level of maintenance grant your household income must not exceed €22,703

-4 per cent reduction in all grants this year.

-non adjacent rate has been changed from 24km to 45km.

-mature students are no longer automatically entitled to the non adjacent rate.

– previous awarding bodies: VECs and  County Councils.

-new awarding body: City of Dublin VEC.

-the new student contribution charge was covered in the fees payments from the awarding bodies this year.

Rates

Type Non-adjacent rate Adjacent rate
Special rate €6,100 €2,445
Full Maintenance €3,120 €1,250
Part maintenance (75%) €2,340 €940
Part maintenance (50%) €1,560 €625
Part maintenance (25%) €780 €315

 

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