Gavin Lynch-Frahill explores the effects of the ongoing SUSI disaster.
What began with much pomp and gusto as the solution to backlogs of applicants for student maintenance grants, in a way that could only happen to the South Dublin Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, has exploded in his face. The Student Universal Support Ireland project has been on a downward spiral ever since its inception. From debacle to disaster it has now yet again reached a previously unattainable low by a government department (possibly with the exemption of Health and Finance!). SUSI, as it is called, has left thousands of students without confirmation on the future of their education. Ironically I write this on the day that my own grant was approved; I have been seen as one of the lucky few who have been granted my full grant. The majority of applications have been backlogged by endless bureaucracy and mind numbing strings of emails from which there is no escape but to approach the banks for a loan.
Cork Independent recently ran a piece on a student who had their grant cut by half as a result of the changes to the Student Finance in the Budget. It appears that SUSI have actually done a good job for the government, by delaying all of these grant applications they are all now subject to the changes under the December Budget and will save the Government Budget. This has saved the Government €4.8 million, as 6,400 students are now in a higher bracket for the grant. This is a staggering figure as that amount of students has just had €755 wiped from their accounts per year.
What is even more disturbing is the engagement of TDs in the system. There are many cases that will not go on record, but it is widely known that a phonecall to a local TD can greatly speed up the process. Had the Fine Gael/Labour coalition not gone into Government with the promise to reduce this kind of thing and concentrate on running the country?
What SUSI is also lacking is accountability. Who has been reprimanded for this? Surely there is someone to blame. The Government don’t seem too forthcoming to pin it on anyone. Hang on a second… Am I getting Anglo-Irish déjà vu?
Had this been the Department of Social Protection and the applications had been delayed approximately 4 months, there would have been uproar. Families would have been starving. Repossessions would have occurred and heads would have rolled, if not that of Minister Joan Burton herself. Why then is a maintenance payment to students not treated in the same seriousness? Maybe because the government believe students have parents and they should look after them. Well in that case they are right, they do have parents. They are the same parents that Michael Noonan has just shafted in the budget and, being barely able to afford their own mortgages, how can they afford the exuberant rent rates of College Road?
Where are our national representatives gone – the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), who quite recently we ratified affiliation to in a referendum? our own Students’ Union came to the rescue of the starving students by putting together care packages and providing support from the student hardship fund. Even College Dinners, run in UCC, has been a major assistance to students including myself who had found it hard to cope. Maybe it is time for some of these people to go on to a national level…
All in all, this year has been a disaster for students who have time and time again been hit by the government and there is still no response from us. The masses still see us as the party animals of the tiger years with designer clothes and the best of technology on the piss every night of the week. To these people I ask: can you see the student who can’t afford to go out during the week? If they could, maybe their opinion of us would change.
Anyone for a tin of baked beans and a glass of water? No? Well that is what a good portion of our classmates have been living on. Think of them next time you see the Student Hardship piggy bank.