While the SUSI grant helps many, some students still fall through the cracks

Just over 85,000 college students received a grant under the 2018 Student Grant Scheme according to figures released by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) under Freedom of Information legislation.

During the 2018 academic year, 98,508 applications for a grant were submitted to SUSI’s Awarding Authority. This means a total of 13,483 students were refused a grant, a figure that has risen from 10,623 in 2017.

SUSI is Ireland’s single national awarding authority for all higher and further education grants. Beginning in 2012, SUSI offered funding to eligible students in approved full-time third-level education in Ireland and also, in some cases, funding for students studying outside the State.

Students are split into two categories for assessment, dependent and independent students. Dependent students are assessed on their own income and that of their parents/legal guardians, whereas independent students are assessed on their own income and that of their cohabitant.

Robert Ralph has been refused the grant every year he has been in college (now in his final year), despite meeting the criteria for the grant.

“Since I was leaving school and getting my Leaving cert results I knew I’d need to apply for the SUSI grant to get by in college because I wasn’t working at the start of first year and only my dad was working at home. On top of that, my older brother was a couple of years ahead in college and my younger brother was coming into the leaving cert at school so it was a pretty expensive time for the family.”

Having been refused during his first two years of college, Robert was faced with the decision to struggle through or defer and save money and come back to the course at a later date.

“Halfway through first year I finally managed to get myself a job just working in a clothes shop in the shopping centre next to my house, but I was really only able to do enough hours that would give me enough money to cover food and transport for the week and it was tough to have a social life on that kind of budget.

“I did that routine for year one and two but in third year after getting refused again, I decided to take on close to full-time hours in work just so I’d have a surplus of money rather than having to scrape by and I was still doing 30 or so hours of lectures a week on top of all the studying as well.”

With over 10,000 students refused in each of the last three academic years, there are calls for applications to become more transparent.

“Each year it’s the same story with SUSI, to be honest,” said Robert. “I just apply for it out of habit because I know I’m not going to get it. The whole process could do with being a bit more open because I haven’t been given a specific reason for being refused despite being within the criteria for it and it can be like chasing shadows at times when trying to chase up replies or to see what stage your application is at.

“I know every case is different and they can’t give one to everyone but there’s definitely hundreds of genuine people in need being refused every year and something has to be done about that. College is difficult enough as it is without having to top it off with financial pressure.”

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