Students waiting on grants warned of late fee penalty
THIRD level students waiting for their grant applications to be processed have been threatened with late payment penalties by their colleges because of unpaid fees.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn directed the Higher Education Authority (HEA) to ensure universities and institutes of technology did not put any students whose grant had not come through at a disadvantage and letters were issued by the HEA this week.
Up to 50,000 students are still waiting for their third-level grants to be processed by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), the new central online system.
However, one student, who did not wish to be identified, said although she has been able to attend classes for her master's degree programme at Trinity College Dublin, she has not been able to access the library or other on-campus facilities.
She first submitted her grant application in late July and says she's still waiting for a decision.
The student was told unless her tuition fees were paid by December 15, her name would automatically be withdrawn from the college's system and she would have to pay an additional €390 on top of her tuition fees.
"I tried to explain to them that it's something I have no control over but they said it's not their problem," she said.
A spokeswoman from TCD said the college's policy towards the end of the first term was to undertake a review of all unregistered students and consider if they should be "withdrawn".
"TCD in no way wishes to place any extra financial burden on students that are experiencing difficulties with SUSI and will consider on a case by case basis if a student should be made withdrawn," she said.
The college has advised students in difficulty to call into the student fees offices.
Labour Party chairman, Colm Keaveney, said he had been "disturbed" by reports from students who were now being threatened with late payment penalties by their third-level institutions including Sligo IT, NUIG and the University of Limerick.
He is calling on the minister to ensure no student suffers a financial penalty because of delays in processing their grant application.
Sligo Institute of Technology sent a letter to students on October 22 who hadn't paid their registration fees.
A spokesperson said this letter was standard and had gone out before it received a letter from the HEA this week. "There was no threat to withdraw any services or privileges. We take a very compassionate approach to students' positions," the spokesperson said.
NUI Galway said if a student indicated when they registered that they had applied for a grant they would not be asked to pay the portion of the fee covered by the grant.
However, if this hadn't happened, the university had no other way of knowing they had applied for a grant and would have requested payment of fees.
A spokesperson for UL was not available for comment.