Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn recently announced the introduction of a centralised online system for dealing with student grants. Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) is expected to save the exchequer an estimated €5 million and help accelerate grant applications for those entering third level education in the next academic year. This welcome initiative will replace the previous system, which saw grant applicants apply to any one of the 66 grant awarding authorities – their local authority or Vocational Education Committees for grants.
According to Mr Quinn, the introduction of SUSI ensures that students will no longer have to wait months for their first cheques and face ‘undue hardship as a result’. These are encouraging words for students who often have to give up a college place in the face of financial difficulties at home or lack of advance loans and finances available to them from banks as they await their grant cheque.
Students will no-longer have to wait for their grant payments to come through, depending on which VEC or local authority they were with. This new innovative online system which is co-ordinated and ran by City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC) will ensure that students whose grant applications have been approved will get monthly electronic transfers into their bank accounts during the academic year.
It is important to remember that SUSI will only be dealing with new applications in its first year of operation; renewal applications for students who already get a grant for their current courses will continue to be dealt with by the existing 66 grant-awarding authorities until they finish their courses.
The student grant is the main source of financial help available from the Irish State for students in full-time Post Leaving Certificate Courses (PLCs) and full-time higher education undergraduate courses. Support is available to eligible students in most colleges in Ireland as well as eligible Irish students in many colleges in Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU States. For eligible students, the grant is there to help with the various costs of participating in further or higher education. Students on part-time courses, access or foundation courses (in higher education institutions) and short courses are not eligible to apply for a student grant.
Every year there are many students who fail to get a student grant as a result of missing the deadline dates in place. This new online application system is now live and if you think you are eligible for the student grant, you should apply for it as soon as possible. You do not have to wait until you receive an offer of a place or enrol in college to pursue with your application. As with the traditional grant system; family and personal income will be a key factor in deciding whether individuals are eligible for a grant.
Many students solely depend on the Student Grant; which is not always adequate for them to survive whilst going to college. Depending on the city your college is situated in; attending college can be very expensive and more so, if you are living in the capital. There is support in place to assist students who have no other financial assistance apart from the grant and find themselves struggling. The Student Assistance Fund provides financial assistance for full-time higher education students who are experiencing financial difficulties whilst attending college. Students can apply for Student Assistance to help them with either temporary or on-going financial difficulties. The Student Assistance Fund provides a further source of funding for higher education students in addition to the Student Grant.
Each year, the State allocates a certain amount of Student Assistance funding to all publicly funded higher education colleges based on the size of the college’s full-time student population. Students in need of financial support can then make application in the college for assistance under the Fund. The Student Assistance Fund is not available in further education/PLC colleges. There are strict conditions in place to determine if you are eligible to apply for this assistance fund to ensure that the students most in need avail of it.
There are many ways to survive college financially; budgeting being an obvious one. Apart from putting in place controls to ensure you do not fall short financially; there are many supports like college counsellors and the students union in place to assist and support you if you reach financial crisis. It is important to avail of these supports.
Student Universal Support Ireland is one much welcomed government initiative that will go a long way to alleviate stress that is often caused by the wait for a grant cheque.
*New students have until 21 August to apply online for a grant. They can also check out the SUSI support page on Facebook. SUSI has a Nationwide Mentoring Network in place to assist applicants who might have access issues using the online system. You should contact the SUSI Support Desk for additional information on this network.