Ongoing delays in the allocation of student grants are having a worrying impact on the local economy in Donegal, and in particular Letterkenny, it has been claimed.
Student Union President at Letterkenny IT, Dave Heraty, has warned that unless students receive their grants, student numbers could fall and landlords could be left with vacant properties.
His comments came as it emerged that Donegal has among the highest percentage of students still waiting their grants.
In June the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, introduced the new system, Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) promising huge savings to the tax payer, hailing it as an “excellent example of public sector reform.”
Almost 200 people were employed across the 66 grant awarding authorities, whereas SUSI has a staff of 65.
Their new system has become a major bone of contention to opposition parties with Fianna Fail Deputy Charlie McConalogue raising the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday night. The motion calls on Minister Quinn to immediately address the failures with SUSI, which have left almost 50,000 students still waiting for their grant applications to be processed. Deputy McConalogue has said the system is riddled with problems and it is up to Minister Quinn to provide the necessary resources to tackle the backlog. Between 60 and 65 per cent of students in the LYIT are on grants. Over ninety per cent of students from Donegal who attend third level in this country are on grants. First year students are the worst affected.
LYIT President, Paul Hannigan said that on October 8th last, he was made aware that only nine students at his college were paid their grants. Amidst a record year for first year students, Mr Hannigan immediately raised the issue with the Institute of Technology Ireland who informed the Department of Education.
The hardship fund for students at the institute has increased by 53 per cent from a period between September and Halloween and the student assistance fund is gone. LYIT student welfare officer, Brian McElwaine said: “All you have to do is take a look around the college you can see it etched on their faces. There were more first time applicants for the student assistance fund than there ever was and it was cut. Where is the money going to come from when their parents aren’t working?”
His sentiments were echoed by Student Union President, David Heraty who said there are no part-time jobs for students anymore. “People rely on their grant for essentials, such as paying for accommodation. Most landlords have been lenient and that is great. However, what we are hearing now is that landlords are beginning to introduce charges because they are not being paid either. There is a huge knock on effect, it’s just rippling and the local economy is suffering because of it.”
Paul Hannigan pointed out that a graduation day in LYIT floods the local economy with half a million euro. He added that the student annual expenditure into the local economy is between thirteen and fourteen million euro.
The national branch of the student’s union have decided that they will focus on lobbying at grass-roots level. Dave and Brian are urging parents, business people and students to all attend a march that will take place at Deputy Joe McHugh’s office in Letterkenny shortly.
Dave said: “You cannot call this free education anymore. Because of the delay in their grants students have gone past the date where they can de-register and they wouldn’t face tuition fees the following year.”
Continued on page 10