By Paddy Henry
Aontú representative for Tuam, NUI Galway student Luke Silke, has called for an immediate update from Minister Simon Harris regarding plans for reform of the SUSI grant scheme.
Following the release of documents from the Department of Further and Higher Education obtained by the party under the Freedom of Information Act it was revealed that students whose parents have died, students who are homeless and students who are single parents had been refused SUSI grant payments and wrote to the Minister about their situation.
Third -Year student Silke, a Parliamentary assistant to Aontú leader Peadar Toibín said that the emails make for “sad” reading;
“I’ve read all of these emails which the Department have released to us and they make for sad reading. I knew the situation was bad, but the knowledge that homeless students or students whose parents are dead are being refused assistance is just incredible.
Among the emails, seen by SIN was testament from a student who cares for his father suffering from Dementia and Parkinsons’ Disease while himself suffering from a chronic respiratory illness who had application to SUSI was refused on the grounds that the course they had applied for was listed as an online course
The release of these emails follows the withdrawal of funding for 2,050 students who had additionally qualified for the SUSI grant scheme last summer, 154 of which were from Galway.
Tuam native Silke highlighted the need for reform of the SUSI scheme and criticised the government for not understanding the urgency of the matter at hand;
“SUSI needs to be reformed, and the government accepts this, but they don’t seem to understand the urgency here. There is something deeply wrong with the system if homeless students are being refused assistance. I’m aware of cases where a number of siblings from the same house applied for the grant – some qualified, some didn’t – this doesn’t make sense, all the variables are the same – distance from the college, parental income, etc. Most cruel is the red tape thrown in the paths of students who are estranged from their parents – the lengths these students must go to in order to prove estrangement are inhumane. The process, I believe, involves Gardaí and solicitors letters” he stated.
Silke criticised the SUSI scheme for what he described as the aggressive withdrawal of funding from struggling students and said that many students are being “left behind” due to flaws in the system;
“There are many students who are being refused a grant because they’re repeating the year, or because they have dropped out of a previous course and changed University. These students are deemed by the system to be ‘not progressing in education’ and are refused funding. In cases where SUSI are withdrawing funding, from over 200 of those students they are seeking repayments – in a manner which I can only describe as aggressive. The system does not take into consideration this year’s income, only the previous years’. Given this flaw, many people who are struggling at the moment are being left behind,” concluded Silke.