Massive increase in local student grant applications
The number of Meath students seeking higher level grants from Meath County Council and Meath VEC has increased by almost 70 per cent over the past two years, putting both bodies under extreme pressure when processing applications. Meath VEC, which provides grants to students attending IT colleges and PLC courses, has seen an increase of 70 per cent in applications since the recession started. They received 1,071 applications in 2008 and this had risen by 58 per cent to 1,697 last year. They are still accepting applications this year - the closing date is 1st December - and to date they have received 1,906 applications and they continue to come in at a rate of around five a day. Meath County Council, which provides grants to university students, has received 648 new applications to date and 508 renewal applications for higher education grants. It, too, has seen the number of applications soar in the last few years. To date, the county council has awarded 257 grants and the first payment run was made on 29th September. Subsequent payments will be made on a fortnightly basis. Second instalment payments are scheduled for payment in January 2011. Meath VEC will make the first payments this month to all those who have accepted an offer of a grant. One of the biggest problems in processing grant applications is incomplete application forms, according to VEC CEO, Peter Kierans. “Two-thirds of the forms we receive are either incomplete or come without accompanying documentation,” he said. He explained that, because of this, they were holding workshops each week on Wednesday and Friday afternoons to assit students in filling out applications. Despite the huge increase in applications, the VEC has not received any extra personnel to deal with the increased volume and it has, in fact, lost staff as a result of the moratorium on recruitment in the public service. Meanwhile, Senator Dominic Hannigan has urged Meath students awaiting grants who are having difficulty accessing college services to contact him. He said third-level colleges needed to give grant-entitled students a break when it comes to delays in paying their fees. “In recent weeks, my office has dealt with several cases where students waiting on grants have been denied access to college libraries and other facilities because they haven’t paid their registration fee. This is just not on and we can help,” he said. Senator Hannigan said the main universities have agreed to give grant-entitled students time to pay up. “The average cost of college registration is now running at around €1,500 a year. It can take time, particularly for new students, before their grant comes through. In the meantime, if students find themselves being cut off from college services over a fee payment issue, I would urge them to contact me,” he added. The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has pointed out that only 13 out of the 66 awarding bodies have made any payments to those awaiting their student maintenance grant. They point out that just 10 county councils and three VECs have made payments to students who are eligible for maintenance grants and they are calling for a centralised grant agency.