A number of dental nursing and dental hygiene students at Trinity College and University College Cork have had their grants withdrawn with immediate effect by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI). SUSI is also considering suspending financial support to students to help pay for the student contribution fee of €2,500, according to The Irish Independent.
In a letter to 39 dental nursing and dental hygiene students, SUSI said that, as the courses do not lead to “a major award at level 7 of the National Framework of qualifications (NFQ)”, the students are “ineligible for a grant”. The decision was made following an internal audit by SUSI that revealed issues regarding the two courses. The grants will be suspended while an examination into the issue is carried out.
SUSI claims that under the latest student support regulations published last May, courses must be full-time and lead to major qualifications under the NFQ. It added that some level 7 diplomas are not considered major qualifications.
Sarah Moyles, a second year student of dental nursing in Trinity told the Irish Independent that 18 of 22 of her classmates had not received their expected grant this month. Students who entered the course this year have also been affected, as have students of dental hygiene. SUSI says it has not yet decided if it will demand repayment of grants issued between September and December.
The head of the School of Dental Nursing, June Nunn, said that SUSI did not inform the school that the grants were being suspended. She added that demand remained very high for graduates of the affected courses despite cuts in the dental sector.
SUSI was set up in 2012 to take over the processing of student grants from local authorities and VECs. In its first year the system was plagued by delays and the Ombudsman accepted over 50 complaints by students experiencing long delays. The Ombudsman said that students had been “put through the mill” by SUSI in its first year.
In another embarrassing error last November, SUSI rejected a grant application claiming that the student’s family income of €46,661 was “above the €54,240 threshold under our scheme.
Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn admitted last May that the government had “got it wrong”. Following a report into failings at SUSI, extra staff members were hired and the application process was streamlined. On 30th November SUSI announced that decisions had been made on all student grant applications, two months earlier than in 2012.