Common sense required for calculating college distances

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Galway East TD Paul Connaughton has called for common sense to prevail in relation to the calculation of distances from students’ homes to college for student grant purposes after a number of cases where students were moved from a non-adjacent rate to an adjacent rate of grant.

‘Students who live 45 km or less from college receive an adjacent rate of grant, while those who live over 45 km from college receive the non-adjacent rate. The difference is significant. For example a student on full maintenance non-adjacent rate will receive an annual grant of €3,025, while the adjacent rate is €1,215. For those on the special rate, whose parents rely solely on social welfare or an equivalent sum, the non-adjacent rate is €5,915, while the adjacent rate is €2,375.

‘In the past few weeks, I have been approached by students with bizarre tales of how changes are being made and higher grant rates denied to students. One case related to a Mountbellew student travelling to Athlone. Any student from Connacht travelling to AIT would take the M6 by-pass and exit at the AIT signage and go back in to the college while avoiding the town. The powers that be in SUSI calculated the distance going via the town centre, which resulted in a distance of 44.6 kms, less than half a kilometre off the cut-off point and denied the student the non-adjacent rate. One arm of government is providing by-passes to avoid town traffic congestion, while SUSI appear to want to route students through busy town centres at peak times.

‘Another case related to a student who also lives near the 45km cut-off point. Last year he received the non-adjacent rate and it would be reasonable to assume that as he hadn’t moved house he would receive the same rate in second year, but no so, this year he was granted the adjacent rate and has been informed that the rate he received last year was an error.

‘In yet another case, a student living in south Galway was expected to go over a boggy mountain road to reach their destination in GMIT and I would love to be in the passenger seat if any SUSI inspector decided to drive that route in mid-December!

‘SUSI has to show flexibility in cases where the disputed distance is less than five km and I believe that in such cases proper cognisance should be taken of the routes actually used by students, the safety of particular routes in winter time and the use of town by-passes such as the M6 by-pass of Athlone. I will be taking this issue up with the Minister for Education, SUSI and the Student Grant Appeals Board in coming days.’