Ruairí Quinn admits Susi grant system failures

Minister for Education promises not to “take my eye off the ball” this year

Marie O’Halloran

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has acknowledged the Government “got it wrong” with the introduction of a centralised system to administer third-level grants.

Tens of thousands of students applying for funding suffered lengthy delays in receiving their grants under the new Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) system and some were forced to drop out of college because of the financial burden.

The Minister pledged however that he would not take his “eye off the ball this year”. The centralised system was established last year to replace applications to individual local authorities but by November just a third of the 60,000, applications had been processed.

Mr Quinn said in the Dáil the department “had no experience of administering the grant system and from day one, there were 66 different bodies involved, with the county councils on one hand and vocational education committees on the other”.

He told Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue, “did we get it wrong? Yes we got it wrong collectively. Are we fixing it? I think we are. Have I looked at what happened internally in the department? Yes, I have”.

Three bodies had expressed an interest in operating the “grant-awarding function” and were interviewed by the department which had responsibility “but no operational experience”. The organisations had operational experience and “the City of Dublin VEC, the largest in population terms in the country, made the most convincing bid”.

‘Unacceptable’
Mr McConalogue said the system did not deliver grants to students quickly and it failed to make the process more efficient in its first year. “The fact that over half of students were not paid their grant until after Christmas last year was totally unacceptable.”

He called on Mr Quinn to give an assurance that there would be no repetition of the mistakes made last year and he said there had to be an investigation and an assessment published on why it went so wrong.

The Minister insisted “it will be better this year”, but he would not be publishing any document because he did not have one. He said he was briefed by officials working in extremely difficult circumstances because, like everybody else, “their income has been reduced and their workload has been increased”.

Mr Quinn told Mr McConalogue he was “not looking for people to scapegoat. I am the person to be scapegoated and I am here in front of you” but “I will take whatever steps were necessary to ensure we improve the service”.