THOUSANDS of third level students from Kerry are reaching financial crisis point due to delays in the processing of grant applications.
Only 10 per cent of applicants from the county, 258 from a total of 2,445, have been awarded their student grants for 2012/ 2013, with a staggering 1,871 left in limbo, with little or no indication of whether they will or not be in receipt of a grant.
The uncertainty has reached crisis point for many students and families, as they struggle to make ends meet for college expenses, rent and day-to-day living.
Many students are currently endeavouring to cope with little or no finance while also dealing with the extra stress the situation has heaped upon them. Some students have even begun to face the reality of not being able to remain in college, according to a spokesperson from IT Tralee's Student Union.
The blame for the extreme delay in processing grant applications has been put squarely at the door of new single grant- awarding authority, Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), who took over the application process this year from Local Authorities and VECs.
SUSI have been accused of being under- resourced, under- staffed and over-bureaucratic in their handling of grant applications. Some students in IT Tralee are in such grave difficulty that they have been forced to seek emergency financial help in the form of a bursary from the ESF Student Assistance Fund or a short-term loan from the ITT Benevolent Fund.
Eoin Murray, Vice President Education, IT Tralee Students Union said the uncertainty was putting unnecessary stress on students.
He explained that 54 per cent of student body of approximately 3,500 were dependent on grants; however 1,500 have yet to receive a grant with just 100 from the new SUSI system actually receiving any payment.
"In terms of living, rent is a huge problem, while food and travel are other problems students are faced with. There is more stress because of the grant situation and not just amongst first years," he said. "Sometimes the Local Authorities and the VEC may have been slow, but the situation was never as bad as this."
Murray said students were trying as best they could to focus.
"If students are worrying, then it is going to have a knock-on effect on parents and families," he remarked.
The Student Union official said emergency funding in the college was now coming under pressure as now "there are so many hands going into the pot".
He added that many were now questioning the viability of staying in third level education.
"Of course, there have been a few students saying that they will not be able to afford to go to college because their grant is not coming in. We would also be concerned for their well-being because of the extra stress they are feeling at the moment," he said.
Meanwhile, IT Tralee Union of Students will hold a public information evening in the Brandon Hotel on Thursday, November 22, at 7pm. The meeting is for current students, prospective students and their parents, and will deal with the costs of going to college, the fees situation and the grants crisis.
Local political representatives have been invited by the students union to attend.