Friday, May 17, 2013
For Immediate Publication
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has denounced Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, following the findings of an independent report by Accenture. The report, launched today, shows that the Minister failed vulnerable students in blind pursuit of public sector savings.
The external review of Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) – the new centralised grant awarding agency – found that SUSI was not able to secure the resources it required to fulfil its obligations and that valuable time was wasted by SUSI senior management in pursuit of the necessary resources from the Department of Education and Skills, instead of addressing operational failures in the system.
Speaking today, USI President, John Logue, said:
“Following the introduction of the new grant process twelve months ago, the Government boasted that it would ‘make it far easier for students applying for grants and should make the processing of applications more efficient and consistent’ and that SUSI had a ‘comprehensive communications plan’ in place.
However, today’s report confirms that Minister Quinn’s pursuit of radical reductions in public sector costs undermined the ability of SUSI to provide for vulnerable students and families.The Minister’s only contribution to the launch of the review was to say that the Department ‘will continue to monitor how SUSI responds to new applications when it launches again next week.’ The Minister cursorily noted that SUSI has received sanction for additional staff resources.
This is indicative of the level of empathy that Minister Quinn has shown to the thousands of families who were left financially stranded because of the failings of the new grant system. The Department was initially quick to blame students and parents for the delays, swiftly followed by the Department’s blaming of City of Dublin VEC, which administers the new system.
The launch of Accenture’s report today confirms once and for all that the Minister undermined the ability of SUSI to provide for vulnerable students. There is now an onus on the Minister to rectify the damage caused by ensuring that failings on this scale never occur again.”
Summary of SUSI Report Findings:
1. Resources: SUSI was not able to secure the resources it required in the timeframe set out in the agreed implementation plan. Consequently, a significant amount of management time was spent addressing resourcing issues, taking time away from planning and designing the SUSI model.
Conclusion: The Department failed to provide SUSI with adequate resources.
2. Inadequate Performance Review: There were no defined expected service levels, wholly inadequate Key Performance Indicators, poorly defined roles and accountabilities for SUSI staff and inadequate programme governance structure. Measurement metrics were only defined at a high level and were not developed at an operational level, thus hindering reporting of progress.
Conclusion: The systems put in place to measure performance were not fit for purpose from day one. This limited SUSI’s ability to recognise performance failures and take timely corrective action.
3. Insufficient Testing and Planning of Systems: The SUSI model was not sufficiently planned and tested. This meant that when application window opened, the model was ill-equipped to cope with the scale of applications submitted.
4. Lack of Clarity for Applicants: There was insufficient clarity provided by SUSI in relation to key dates, deadlines and documentary evidence required to support an application.
5. Not an Online Process: The stated aim of SUSI was to become an online-only grant application scheme. In that respect, it failed. Applicants found that after the initial application procedure, the process was largely manual and post-based.
6. Not an Integrated Process: The grant applications system is not designed end-to-end. This means that applicants have to go between Government departments to collect the necessary documentation, making the process even more complex than it already is. SUSI did nothing to change this system.
7. Lack of Staff: CDVEC’s service proposal outlined the staff and resources it would need to cope with the peak demands placed on it in 2012. However, the right resources did not come at the right time and there were issues getting staff because of constraints on public service staff spending.
8. Poor Management Structure: Managment had to be enhanced throughout the year and key positions did not exist, such as Head of SUSI, responsibility for operations management, a dedicated IT lead, campaign and stakeholder management, an end-to-end programme manager, data management and reporting and contract management.
9. Staff Training: It was found that despite efforts to train staff, temporary staff were found to offer insufficient support to applicants who were experiencing difficulties with the system. Moreover, there was no formal feedback system in place for applicants who wished to make complaints.
10. Performance Failure and Benchmarking: By December 31st, 2012, 68.8% of grants had been awarded (or, 31.2% of grants had not been awarded). Because there were no performance benchmarks set down, Accenture is unable to draw any positive or negative conclusions from this statistic.
For more information please contact USI Media and Communications Executive, Ronan Costello, on 085 1164263 or firstname.lastname@example.org