Friday, April 26, 2013

Seeking your views on SUSI grant system

Anyone who reads reports of Monaghan VEC or County Council meetings will know that I have been extremely critical of the SUSI centralised student grant system since the moment it was announced by Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn.  The criticism has since come from all quarters, especially over the past seven months.  Student Unions and political reps from all parties have been scathing in response to the difficulties caused to grant applicants as a result of delays and, in some instances, incorrect decisions, by SUSI.  In Monaghan I have been among those who have been articulating the dissatisfaction with the system.

I now find myself as a member of a new SUSI advisory group.

Student grants were previously administered by local VEC’s and County Councils but last year the government appointed the City of Dublin VEC (CDVEC) with the task of managing and delivering all new student grant applications from June 2012.  This system has become known as the infamous Student Universal Support System, SUSI.  

Probably as a result of the complaints received and the enormous level of negative publicity generated CDVEC recently appointed an advisory group.  The group contains a representative from the Department of Education, Department of Public Expenditure, Department of Social Protection, Irish Universities Association, Institutes of Technology, CAO, Union of Students Ireland, Institute of Guidance Counsellors and the Irish Vocational Education Association (IVEA).  It is this last group, the IVEA on whose behalf I was appointed.  I am a member of the Standing Council of the IVEA which comprises of a member from each VEC and have raised my concerns about the manner in which SUSI operates at a number of it's meetings.

Anyway, the role of the new advisory body is:
- To receive, consider and comment on regular progress reports on the activities of SUSI;
- To advise CDVEC on the concerns, issues and likely impacts of the activities of SUSI;
- To assist CDVEC in strategic planning for the continuing development and implementation of the grant awarding process;
- To consider appropriate communication strategies with all key stakeholders;
- To propose, as appropriate, the establishment of working groups to examine key areas and to follow up and consider the work of such groups in consultation with the project management team.

The initial meeting of the advisory group took place last week.  If one were cynical (and I usually am) we could dismiss the group as a token gesture to deflect criticism. However, I am hopeful it will provide an opportunity to improve the system and to ensure that this years students do not experience the same level of problems as last years.

I have made no secret that I believe that the function of student grants should revert back to a local structure and I had argued that the establishment of the new Education and Training Boards would have provided the ideal avenue to facilitate this.  Unfortunately this is a 'political' decision that can only be made by the government and they have, thus far, ruled it out as an option.

Therefore I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the IVEA to represent the VEC sector on the advisory group.  The first meeting of the body has left me hopeful that it will offer an opportunity to change and improve the current system pending the radical overhaul that we would prefer.

With this in mind I am asking anyone with views and opinions as to how SUSI can be improved to forward same to me.  Also, if anybody has case studies of individual circumstances which highlight the failures of SUSI over the current academic year please pass them onto me as they will be useful to highlight the problems that exist.

The SUSI scheme for the 2013/14 academic year will be open to applicants in May and I am particularly anxious that if any early problems are evident that people let me know. 

If you do have ideas, suggestions or case studies you can e-mail them to me at ‘’.