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A story of twin students - one got a grant and the other was refused

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The first two years of SUSI's operation have seen some stark swings in where grants are being awarded - with significantly more for urban/PAYE communities and fewer in rural counties

This is a true story from the pre-SUSI days and a good example of how the student grants processing system worked, or did not.

There were twin students, one of whom applied to the local Vocational Education Committee (VEC) for the grant, and was turned down. The other applied to a local authority, and was approved. Same family circumstances, but different outcome.

Naturally, the twin who lost out appealed the decision - but to no avail. On foot of that, the local authority was advised to withdraw approval for the grant from the other twin.

With 66 VEC and local authority offices around the country involved in awarding grants over the years, it is unsurprising that not all applications were treated in exactly the same way.

Some officials would apply eligibility criteria with great rigour, while others interpreted the rules in a softer way, maybe the more so with borderline cases. Such empathy is probably more likely to be evident in small communities where there is a greater likelihood that staff would know an applicant.

SUSI, a single agency for processing grants applications, is gradually taking over the work done by those 66 agencies. in its first year, SUSI was responsible for applications from new college entrants; in year two, it took on renewal applications for second years; and this year it is also handling renewals for third years.

The first two years of SUSI's operation have seen some stark swings in where grants are being awarded - with significantly more for urban/PAYE communities and fewer in rural counties.

Traditionally, the children of farmers and the self-employed have been far more likely get a grant.

The family income may not always be as transparent as that of the PAYE worker.

SUSI acknowledged at a recent Oireachtas committee hearing that while the rules for determining reckonable income are clear, their application in individual cases can be complex, particularly if there is more than one source of income

It seems likely that the consistency that SUSI has brought to the processing of applications - including electronic data-sharing arrangements with offices such as the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection, allowing verification of income - has had a big impact.

The availability of a grant can be crucial in deciding whether a student does, or does not, go to college and it is incumbent on politicians to ensure that no one is denied access because they cannot afford it.

It is also essential that rules apply fairly.

Irish Independent