06/02/2008

'Student Support Bill Imperfect' - USI

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has hailed yesterday’s publication of the Student Support Bill as a major step forward – but called for centralisation of the grants system.

The Bill responds to longstanding criticism of the student grants system. For years a “fragmented” system has been responsible for late grant payments and confused students.

Pressure for reform reached a climax at the general election when USI won cross-party consent for measures to streamline and simplify the system.

USI said that the Student Support Bill “positively” replaces four different grant schemes with a unified system.

However the Bill is “imperfect” because it will not centralise the grants system under a single agency at national level, which “would be the best way of maximising efficiency”.

USI President Officer Hamidreza Khodabakhshi said: “On balance, the Student Support Bill represents a substantial improvement for students who depend on receiving timely grant payments.

“The legislation is imperfect because it won’t centralise the grants system under a single agency at national level. Ultimately that would be the best way of maximising efficiency.

“Even so, there is much to welcome in this Bill. It responds to longstanding criticism of the present system by streamlining and simplifying.

“The Support Bill should slash delays to grant payments and cut administrative errors. It must be a stepping stone to centralisation of the grants system.

“USI looks forward to consulting with Minister Hanafin on the final version of the Bill and implementation of the new grants system.”

USI Education Officer Peter Mannion said: “Students are pleased by the creation of an Independent Appeals Board. Unfortunately the timeframe allowed for adjudicating appeals is excessive.

“Students cannot wait up to 45 days for an initial decision on an appeal, then up to 90 days more if the independent board considers the appeal. That’s four and a half months – just ridiculous.

“There is no reason why appeals couldn’t be decided within 21 days or less.”(VB)

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