An Oireachtas committee heard evidence this morning that the eligibility criteria for the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant system needs to be made more flexible.
A meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills heard contributions from Lorna Fitzpatrick, President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), Ciara Fanning, President of the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU).
Both union presidents were in agreement that the process for determining a student’s eligibility to receive a SUSI grant is too inflexible and allows students in some circumstances to fall through the cracks of the system.
Fitzpatrick told the committee that USI “believe there is a need for flexibility in terms of the applications procedure”, stating that “some applications may not fit the criteria as comfortably as others’.’
Fitzpatrick said that students “should be supported when there is a clear need but may not have fully met each individual criteria required”.
The USI president also brought forward a recommendation that the earnings limit and specific time period that students can work under the current holiday earnings criteria be removed, due to the “current cost associated with education”.
Fitzpatrick also called for “a system change in relation to how SUSI notifies colleges about awards granted”. She stated that the USI have heard from students who have been contacted by colleges in relation to missing fee payment deadlines when they have received an award that covered their fees from SUSI.
She stated that these situations “can result in students being denied access to certain areas on campus, such as the library and their online learning platforms, which as you can understand, has a negative impact on their learning experience”.
Finally, Fitzpatrick addressed the appeals process, once again calling for greater flexibility, to allow for “changes in circumstances”.
Ciara Fanning told the committee that “one of the biggest barriers facing second-level students regarding the SUSI grant”, is the inability to be classed as a financially independent candidate if you are under the age of 23.
Fanning stated that many students support themselves financially through a part-time job, while in second-level education she noted that these people “are those that are most in need of an independent candidate status”, adding that “their parents income, no matter the amount has absolutely no impact on their financial situation”.
The ISSU president told the committee that the criteria for estrangement in the SUSI process is “very strict”, and that most students who face self-financing themselves through education can’t meet the required standards. Fanning stated that her union recommends that the criteria be made “less severe, to allow for a more empathetic and understanding system for students that are only attempting to progress in their education”.
Fanning also noted that “the rising cost of living and education many second-level students do have to work part-time jobs throughout their education”, and the number of 16 and 17 year olds becoming employed has increased more than 20% in the period of three years, from 25,000 in 2015 to 30,600 in 2019. She stated that members have reported “having to leave their part time employment in order to be eligible for the SUSI grant as their own income would put them just over the threshold”.
The committee heard from Fanning: “In an economy where it is necessary for a lot of young people to find part-time work and where many sectors rely on these workers the system shouldn’t be punishing them for doing so.”
Almost 100,000 applications are received annually by SUSI and almost 80,000 grants are awarded. This represents €350 million annually in grant support for students.