Date Uploaded: 21/03/2016
Third-level students could face having their grants slashed in half following a decision to use postcodes to determine how far they live from their college.
Grant-processing body Susi will now employ Eircodes to calculate exactly how far a student lives from their third-level institution.
Distance matters as students who live more than 45km (28 miles) from their college are entitled to a higher grant, known as a non-adjacent rate, compared with those living within a 45km radius.
This means that students who are on the cusp of the 45km radius could see their grant fall from almost €6,000 to just €2,375 if they are found to be within the cut-off.
From this year, students will have to provide the seven-digit unique identifier for their home address when applying for a college grant. Previously, Susi had used Google Maps to calculate the distance between a student's home and college.
Grant payments vary, depending on family finances, but a non-adjacent rate is also worth more than double the adjacent rate.
Students from families in most financial need, who live more than 45km from college, receive €5,915 a year, compared with €2,375 paid to those living within a 45km radius.
Similarly, the maximum grant paid to those whose families have a higher income is €3,025 if they live more than 45km from college, compared with an adjacent rate of €1,215.
Currently, about 52pc of grant applicants receive an adjacent rate grant, while 48pc receive a non-adjacent rate.
Susi says the use of Eircode is intended to bring uniformity and greater efficiency to the decision-making process.
However, it may also mean winners and losers in terms of the level of grant awarded, with some borderline cases likely to find themselves moved into a different category.
The agency currently determines whether a student is entitled to an adjacent or non-adjacent rate by using Google Maps to measure the shortest distance from home to college, not using toll roads.
The change will mean that Susi will save up to 250,000 staff hours a year checking Google Maps for applications.
This year, it processed more than 108,000 applications.
Earlier decisions from Susi this year
Leaving Certificate students could know as early as May or June whether they will be entitled to a college grant in September.
Most school-leavers can look forward to a much shorter wait for a decision, thanks to the data-sharing arrangement between the grant-awarding body, Susi, and the centralised applications service, the CAO.
Susi is opening earlier than ever this year and will accept applications from April 5. Traditionally, school-leavers have had to wait until after receiving a CAO offer in August to be told whether or not they qualify for a grant.
But from this year, Susi will make a "conditional offer" once it has processed the student's application - and that could be as early as May. Each year, about 70pc of school-leavers who apply for a grant go on to receive the CAO choice they had indicated on their Susi application.
Journalist: Katherine Donnelly