Just over 90,000 students received a college grant between January 2017 and September 2017 according to figures released by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that between January 2017 and September 2017, 100,955 students applied for the grant. A total of 10,623 applicants were refused. These applications include two separate academic terms; including the academic year ending 2016/17 and the academic year that has just begun.
SUSI offers funding to eligible students in approved full-time third level education in Ireland. In some cases, they can also provide funding for students studying outside the state.
Students are assessed on either their parent/guardian’s income if they are living at home and under 23 years of age or their own income if they are over 23 years of age and living alone.
Nineteen-year old Olivia McGrath was one of the 10,623 students who was refused the grant in the last number of months.
Currently in her second year of Communication and Creative Media in Dundalk Institute of Technology (DKIT), Olivia received the SUSI grant in first year to pay for her college fees. She did not receive a maintenance grant which helps students pay for extras such as supplies and transport.
“Both my parents work but nothing fancy,” she said. “One is a cashier and the other works in a pub. If I want to do something it’s up to me to get it done.”
Olivia was refused the grant in second year as her parents’ gross income was slightly higher than the previous year. She also believes living within 45 kilometres of DKIT made her less likely to receive it.
The college could offer little help and Olivia was at the point where she was considering deferring for a year to work and save money when she found help from an unlikely source.
Her grandmother encouraged her to contact the college chaplain Fr. Allen. After her first meeting, they had agreed on a flexible arrangement where she would receive small amounts of money as she needed it which could be paid back over a “reasonable amount of time” at a very low interstate rate.
“It’s not a widely broadcast service,” she said. “They aren’t a banking service and can’t give students large amounts of money, but for someone like me who was just on the edge and didn’t want the debt of a large loan it was perfect.”
In cases where grants are refused, Olivia believes that there should be more engagement between the applicant and the grant authority and that cases should be reviewed on an individual basis.
“There are some things you can’t put on paper and they don’t take that into account. Everyone’s situation is different and I know I’m luckier than some people.”
By Cara Croke and Chris Kelly