Counting coppers, the cost of college

Almost everyone can remember when they first started looking for a grant. When they made those first few tentative Google searches with more hope than expectation. What did those searches turn up? SUSI. The students’ new, one-stop-shop for maintenance grants. Instead of relying on your overworked, busy, local Council, there was now a government body especially for you. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

However, now we know the true nature of the beast that is Student Universal Support Ireland. The body that boasted on its website that: “When you confirm acceptance of a place on an approved course (usually late August/early September), your grant will be awarded” has failed to reach that target. That deadline was in relation to confirmation of eligibility for a grant, with first receipt of payments expected in October. It is now the far side of November and many students still have no idea if they will even receive a grant.

This colossal mess up comes at a time when families up and down the country are struggling. Many are struggling to put food on the table let alone to send their sons and daughters to college. Some of those who scraped together the money to pay the registration fees did so in the expectation of receipt of a grant from SUSI to reimburse them. Now overdrafts and loans are hanging over the heads of those families until the dire situation is sorted.

When we consider the cost of college we immediately think of the monetary cost. However, with these developments, college is costing a lot more. It is weighing on the minds of families as heavily as it weighs on their pockets. Studies prove that mental health is adversely affected when cash is tight. Light pockets cause sleepless nights. Many students face the possibility of having to drop out of college if these grants don’t come through; who wouldn’t be stressed out with that hanging over their heads?

Thankfully, in most cases, the third-level institutions have been very accommodating towards students with regards to registration fees. DCU first year students have been informed that, provided they have paid the €38 registration fee and provided confirmation of application, they will have full access to all facilities including Moodle and the Library until the 1st of February 2013.

Other institutions are following similar procedure, recognising the unique situation that students are faced with this academic year.

It is worth noting however that despite the failure of SUSI to deliver grant services on time, the reform of the system should be welcomed. The amalgamation of 66 separate bodies into one should in theory save both time and money. However Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn was naïve to think that the work of 66 bodies and hundreds of workers could be adequately done by a body with just 65 staff, many of whom were inadequately trained.

That however, is of no real solace to thousands of families who have been left to watch 14 years of education crumble around their son or daughter.

Though hopefully the delays this year only represent teething problems in the grand scheme of long overdue reform, though only time will tell.

In the meantime the some 66,000 students who applied for a grant have been left either counting their luck, counting the days or counting their coppers.

Sean Defoe

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