|College aid system buckling under pressure, as thousands|
left in the dark about applications
Up to 50,000 Irish university students are still unaware if they will receive a government-issued maintenance grant towards their education costs, despite the university term now being well over a month underway.
The online system, which replaced a cumbersome and inefficient setup of local finance offices, was billed as a way of improving and expediting the issuing of maintenance grants to those who qualify for them - families whose cumulative earnings fall below an income threshold.
However critics say that the new website-based application process is now considerably slower than the previous network of bursars offices, while the large number of students still entirely unaware if they will receive the grant may be at an all-time high.
Several grant payments are available to Irish college students to assist with the already-low fees charged by universities there.
'Maintenance grants', a series of staggered stipend payments towards students' living expenses is the most commonly issued payment, while non-adjacent grants, for those attending school at a significant distance from their homestead, is another commonly attained payment.
A significant percentage of Irish college students receive the maintenance grant, non-adjacent grant, or both. Other forms of financial support for hard-up students, such as emergency cash payments, are generally managed locally, through college, students unions, and charities.
The current situation could cause students considerable stress over the expensive Christmas period, mental health campaigners have claimed, while the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has warned that some students could be forced to drop out if a swift resolution was not forthcoming.
Of the over 40,000 applications received by the new system since the summer, just over 4,000 grants have been issued.
While the body responsible for centrally administering the hi-tech system has been quick to pin the blame on students, for reportedly not submitting the required supporting documentation on time, detractors have said it's unlikely that such a significant percentage of total applicants would have been filled incomplete.
USI President John Logue has said that the organization, SUSI, suffers from a serious staffing problem, and called on government to ensure that more hands are put on the pump to ensure that the backlog is cleared before the busy holidays season begins.
The new system, centrally administered from a base in Dublin, has been roundly criticized by opposition TDs, with Fianna Fáil's Education Spokesperson calling its introduction a backwards step, adding that students would have fared better with pen and paper.