“Inconsistent” and “unfair” grants process criticised

With thousands of students accepting the first round of CAO college and university offers this week, South Tipperary T.D. Tom Hayes has branded the current Student Grant Scheme as “inconsistent” and “unfair.”

With thousands of students accepting the first round of CAO college and university offers this week, South Tipperary T.D. Tom Hayes has branded the current Student Grant Scheme as “inconsistent” and “unfair.”

The TD’s criticism comes following a stream of complaints from members of the public who are unhappy with the measurement schemes being used by state bodies.

New student grant regulations come into affect for the first time this autumn and the distance a student lives from their third level college can mean the difference between a full maintenance grant of E3,120 and a 75%, 50% or even a 25% grant of just E315.

The Student Support Act 2011, passed in February of this year, increased the distance a student must live away from the institution in order to qualify for the full ‘non-adjacent maintenance grant’ of E3,120. The distance is now 45km.

However, the legislation did not call for a uniform system of measurement to be used in deciding whether or not an applicant’s home was within the 45km limit, says Deputy Hayes.

All of this has resulted in hundreds of unhappy families around the country, dismayed at inaccurate measurements and little to no information on how their situation was assessed, he says.

“My office has been inundated with calls and emails on this matter, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What is clear to me is that we need to introduce clarity to this situation. All deciding bodies, whether they be VECs or local authorities, should have a standard and accurate system of measurement when determining an applicant’s suitability for the non-adjacent rate. It is our responsibility as lawmakers to legislate for that, something which the previous Government failed to do” stated Mr Hayes.

The need for a singular method of measurement is obvious, given some of the cases Deputy Hayes has come across. “Obviously we are appealing a huge amount of these cases. I’ve seen evidence of products such as Google Maps being used to decide an applicant’s suitability. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the use of such an informal system is both inconsistent and unfair”.

One of Deputy Hayes’ success stories, a Tipperary student attending college in Limerick, successfully appealed his decision. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, worried they may reverse his decision again, he spoke of his shock as to the workings of the current system,

“I was surprised that my application was initially rejected. I travel that route to college regularly and I knew I was entitled to the higher maintenance grant. I think it’s important that something more accurate than Google Maps is used to decide somebody’s application. It’s an absolute disgrace. I’ve been lucky, but so many others have not.”

Mr Hayes is seeking changes to be made to the current legislation that will allow for a fairer review system to be implemented, “All of this leads me to the conclusion that a single reliable system must be put in place to determine the distances for these adjacent and non-adjacent grants. I will be looking to raise this topic with the Minister when the Dáil resumes in September and I hope we can begin the process of amending the current legislation.

“I have also written to the South Tipperary VEC and County Council seeking to clarify what system they use to review college grant applications. I don’t see why a group like Ordnance Survey Ireland, who provide a fantastic service to the state, couldn’t be used as the official guide to college grant applications in the years to come,” concluded Deputy Hayes.

The Student Support Act comes into effect for the first time this autumn. It merges the previous grants systems including the Higher Education Grants Scheme, the Vocational Education Committee’s Scholarship Scheme, the Third Level Maintenance Grants Scheme for Trainees and the Maintenance Grants Scheme for Students Attending Post-Leaving Cert Course.

Adjacent and Non-Adjacent Rates relate to a student’s living distance from college. Under the Student Support Act the Non-Adjacent limit was increased from 24km to 45km. i.e. an applicant had to live 45km or more away from their college to qualify for the higher, non-adjacent rate.