Review of the SUSI Grant Applications

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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On Monday, 29th March students from Co Limerick attended a virtual public meeting with the Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris TD to discuss SUSI grant applications and the current review of the scheme.

SUSI is the main financial support scheme for students studying in Ireland. The goal of the SUSI scheme is to help make sure everybody can reach college, to provide maintenance grants for students and to pay the registration fee for students. Over a hundred thousand people apply for this scheme every year.

Last December, Simon Harris announced Government approval to conduct a review of the Student Grant Scheme administered by SUSI. The review of SUSI aims to bring the grant system in line with modern standards.

Review of the SUSI Grant Applications

The review’s terms of reference include examining the value of the maintenance grants and income thresholds, the availability of grants for part-time students, adjacent and non-adjacent rates, supports for postgraduates and how Ireland compares against other jurisdictions.

Harris admitted at the time that the scheme was not functioning correctly and needed to be reformed. “The student grant scheme opens the door for many people to access further and higher education. However, the scheme has remained static despite significant changes in Irish society in recent years. We are likely to see an increase in grant holders next year as a result of the pandemic. I want this review to consider the current challenges facing students and to find out what we can do better. The review will report back to me in the summer of 2021 and will help inform decisions in the context of Budget 2022.”

In the meantime Harris promised to “engage with stakeholders… to ensure your voice is heard.” His meeting with students from Co Limerick  is one of many meetings making good on his promise and he was keen to hear what the government can do better and was open to direct feedback on the SUSI programme and how it could be improved. The meeting gave students, their parents, and guidance counsellors an opportunity to offer such feedback.

In the webinar Harris addressed 3 specific questions concerning SUSI: What can we do better? Is it fit for purpose? Does it help you cover the cost of college? Harris ran through some of the shortcomings of the scheme: that it doesn’t cover part-time study, it doesn’t understand some of the costs students can have like child care costs. Also he pointed to the flaws within means testing and how it can look like a family has a decent income coming in but perhaps in reality they have lots of costs and lots of expenses, particularly if there’s more than one child in the family going to college.

The scheme is open to public consultation until the 16th of April and submissions should be emailed to  with “SUSI Review Submission” in the subject line.

Ultimately the review of the scheme exists to improve access to further and higher education and is in line with the governments plans to introduce reforms across the education department – from the overhaul of the CAO system, the Apprenticeship Action Plan, promoting lifelong learning and tackling student accommodation.

The Minister emphasized that there are so many ways to get to where you want to get to in life, saying that some people will want to go straight from school into college. Others will want to ‘earn and learn’. Some people might have missed out on the opportunity to go to college and now in their 40s or 50s they might want to go back to. “We need to create an integrated third level system where everybody can get to where they want to get to through whichever route is the best for them and that is my absolute driving passion as minister in this new department and I‘m really looking forward to a major programme of reform in that area.”

Issues that were raised during the meeting included

Would the system be in place for the next academic year?

Some changes yes but not all changes will come into effect in one year. The Minister gave the example of the support for post grads that he has already introduced which will take effect in September which has doubled the grant for a post-graduate student and almost doubled the amount you can earn to qualify. In general the changes will be rolled out pending the report and how the changes can be then put in place.

People struggling with mortgages finding it difficult to put children through college.

Harris referred to the squeeze middle, the people who work “extremely hard and they always just miss out, they’re always just that little bit over the level for a grant”.  The very first question in the review in the terms of reference is asking the group to look at the income thresholds and considering the income thresholds haven’t increased  for 10 years Harris explained that he would really like to see that income threshold increase

First-time parents applying for SUSI, how much is the grant and does it depend on earnings?

It does and there’s a sliding scale depending on someone’s family income. The maximum grant that anybody can earn is just over a 6,000 but there is a tapering where some people qualify for the full 3 000 registration fee to be paid plus a maintenance grant whereas some people just qualify for the registration fee to be paid and some people qualify for some of the registration fee to be paid. Other factors come into play depending on your specific circumstances.

A mature student applying for the grant and the problem of getting documentation and evidence from parents.

Here the question is: is the scheme fit for purpose? Harris recognised that not everybody who enters the scheme is 17 or 18 and he admitted that that the scheme doesn’t understand that as much as it should. There are more and more people entering third level at an older age and the idea that you have to go back to your parents for a letter or supporting documents is just not feasible in certain conditions. So how mature students are being treated is one of the terms of reference of the review. Patrick O’Donovan pointed out the need for review and cited cases of people who had emigrated and are coming back to Ireland to enter third level and that there’s a real issue in relation to providing letters from parents where in many cases that may not be possible.

Will applicants income threshold be changed to allow for people to continue to work whilst in college?
At the moment a student can earn 4, 000 and still qualify for a loan. Harris accepted tat this is not high enough and that it doesn’t recognise the type of learner in Ireland is changing as more and more people return to education and they might have a real need to work – a mortgage, a family, debts, etc. Here the system is flawed. And does not cater to part-time learning. So the review is looking at the amount of income allowed and how to fund grants for part-time learners.
Other issues were raised including current adjacent/non adjacent rates of grant and obstacles to accessing grants and difficulties navigating the scheme.
The Public Consultation on Review of Student Grant Scheme is open until 16th February.

Review of the SUSI Grant Applications

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The final report will be presented to Minister Harris in the autumn and will inform future considerations regarding the development of student grant policy. is Ireland’s largest independent for courses in Ireland. We list full-time and part-time courses of all types so that you can find the best course for you.

Steven Galvin

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