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Fears of repeat delays to grants as SUSI retains a fraction of staff

Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien says keeping more of last year’s staff would help to avoid a repeat of 2012′s chronic delays.

Students' Unions in some colleges started arranging food parcels last year, helping members whose grants were late in being paid.
Students' Unions in some colleges started arranging food parcels last year, helping members whose grants were late in being paid.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

SINN FÉIN has raised fears that the major delays to the processing of student grants seen last year could be repeated in 2013 as a result of little overlap between staff at the grants agency.

The party’s education spokesman Jonathan O’Brien has been told that only 29 of the staff who worked at Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) last year will be retained to deal with applications made by students this year.

At its peak last year, SUSI had well over 100 staff dealing with applications from tens of thousands of first-year college students throughout the country – and will have a bigger workload this year, as both first and second year college students will fall under its remit.

Most of SUSI’s staff last year were recruited from Abtran, a firm which specialises in outsourced processing work – meaning that the chances of having the same staff return to work for SUSI this year are relatively slim.

“It was always going to be a significant challenge for one centralised system to replace the previous 66 awarding authorities and, quite clearly, many of the problems that occurred with SUSI can be attributed to a lack of resources and experienced personnel,” O’Brien said.

He said the fact that only 29 of last year’s staff would be returning was “worrying”.

“One of the view positives to be taken from what has happened with SUSI is that staff would have learnt a great deal from having to administer third level grants under the new system,” he said.

“The fact that such a relatively small number of experienced staff is remaining means new staff recruited to SUSI will be starting from scratch and may lack the expertise to process applications efficiently,” O’Brien added, hoping that 2013 would not see “history repeating itself”.

In response to a written Dáil question from O’Brien, education minister Ruairí Quinn said SUSI’s staffing levels were under continuous review given the cyclical nature of the agency’s work.

Read: Six months into year, 14pc of SUSI applicants still without grants

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Gavan Reilly

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