By Conor Brummell;
News and Current Affairs Editor
When colleges closed their doors last March, many students were forced to move back to their hometowns to complete the academic year online. With most of these students staying in their locality from March until September, many of their part-time jobs allocated them more hours to help deal with the surge in demand from the coronavirus pandemic.
On top of this, some students who were working in restaurants or bars during the weekends were made unemployed and were able to avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 a week, and the decreased rate of €203 euro from June onwards.
This resulting increase of earnings for students during lockdown has seen a rise in concerns about the allocation of SUSI grants this year. The first payment was due to be made on Friday October 9th, and many students took to social media to express frustrations that they weren’t awarded their correct For some, their maintenance grant was cut entirely, despite being approved months prior.
One student from NUI Galway spoke to SIN about her situation, stating that SUSI told her she had worked too much last year and was no longer entitled to a maintenance grant.
“I apparently worked too much which brought up the overall household income. The savings my mam has now are limited due to my brother needing to go to Poland to do Veterinary Medicine, because his points were downgraded by the Leaving Cert system this year.”
“All I currently have is €17 in my bank account and €60 in my credit union. I may have earned a lot last year through my part time work but that went towards living expenses and I’ve since been left with next to nothing,” she continued.
“SUSI won’t award me my maintenance grant as a result, and my brother is only entitled to 75% of his, leaving him with €37 a week once his rent is paid.”
The student in question moved back to Galway on the pretence that there was going to be on-campus lectures this semester, which changed due to the ongoing public health restrictions and NUI Galway moving teaching online until after Christmas.
“My dad is helping me pay my rent, but I still have to contribute €250 to it a month. I’m thinking of trying to get out of my lease, seeing as we have no lectures on campus, but then I’m also going to lose out on my deposit of €400 which I paid for with my own money.”
She states that she availed of the PUP during lockdown because her workplace, a bar in Galway, closed due to restrictions.
“To be quite honest I’m really stressed, and I have been feeling very drained and exhausted because the every day the situation has changed and it’s quite hard to keep up with, and now I have this financial stress and worry on top of everything too.”
“SUSI normally awarded my sister something like €350 the whole time she was at University, but I only ever received something like €85 a month which isn’t much in the first place,” she caid.
“We’ve heard nothing from SUSI yet, but mum has had to fight with them over appeals every year. It feels as if things are purposely miscalculated, so you lose out on it and they only give in if you keep fighting for what you’re entitled to.”
Another student from Galway said that matters are uncertain for her too.
“I might not get it at all depending on what they’re saying. A lot of people are being thrown this out of the blue, and I’m lucky that I’m in a situation where it’ll be okay but for so many people who’ve moved to other counties, they’re at a loss.”
“A few of my friends have gotten letters in the last week that have asked for all their income details yet again and without this information, SUSI are withholding money that was originally granted months ago. It was due out on the ninth (of October) and I only know of one person who got it on time.”
This student’s parents are self-employed, so usually the grant fluctuates, but both parents have found themselves out of jobs because of the pandemic.
“I received SUSI in first and third year and was supposed to get it this year too. They have paid for my fees in the past and I get €135 euro maintenance. I’m totally financially independent from my parents other than college, but it’s their wages they look at.”
“Unless my parents get an accountant to look over everything in the next few days, they’ll have to pay for college this year too,” she finished.
A spokesperson from SUSI responded to a request for comment from SIN, stating that they do not hold on record the number of grants not renewed year upon year.
However, they did say that to date in the academic year 2020/21, SUSI received over 97,000 applications with over 73,000 awarded funding. Of the 73,000, over 38,000 are renewal students. These figures are subject to change as SUSI is still processing applications.
The spokesperson also stated that, “Over 40,000 higher education students, including over 3,000 from NUI Galway, received their first payment on Friday. To ensure students receive their first payment as soon as possible, SUSI is making weekly payments from 9th October.
“Students receive the payment as detailed in their grant award or grant renewal letter. For example, if an undergraduate student has been awarded the 100% adjacent rate of maintenance, the student will receive €1,215 in nine instalments of €135.”
NUI Galway’s Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Róisín Nic Lochlainn told SIN that she has had some students contact her about the SUSI grant and late payments.
“There may be a delay in the process or a problem with their applications. SUSI has also informed some students that the payment is now being made on the 19th October. If their SUSI grant was approved, they should be entitled to the amount approved.”
However, if a student is facing financial difficulty, the University’s Financial Aid Fund is now open, and students are encouraged to apply for help if they need it.
“Students can contact myself or the Chaplaincy for immediate financial support. What I can do in situations like these is call the private SUSI numbers that the SU are given for circumstances exactly like this- but in order for me to be able to discuss individual cases and see what has went wrong, the students need to reach out to me first and give me written permission to act as a third party in their application before I can discuss their case.”
“It’s such an awful position to be in – the whole SUSI process needs desperate reform and I’ll be bringing it up with Galway west TDs when I meet with them next week,” Nic Lochlainn commented.
More information about the Financial Aid can be found here: https://su.nuigalway.ie/help-advice/financial-aid-fund/