21. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the way in which the distances for adjacent and non-adjacent third level grants were arrived at; his plans to reform the calculation of distances to one of a mean average for the journey; his further plans to address the issue of the calculation via the shortest distance using rural roads in poor repair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 14426/18 asked on 29 Mar 2018)
Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: The way in which SUSI calculates the distance from a student’s home to the college he or she attends does not necessarily reflect the reality on the ground. It does not take into account unsuitable roads, one-way streets and, for example, an off-ramp on the N40. We need to see if there is a way of taking such issues into consideration and whether the Minister of State can take them into account by reviewing the way in which SUSI calculates those distances.
Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for the question. SUSI uses Google Maps. We can certainly take on board what the Deputy has just said. Budget 2011 provided for a number of student grant measures which came into effect for 2011-12. These included the change in the assessment of the qualifying distance criterion for the non-adjacent rate of grant from 24 km to 45 km. The 24 km criterion was originally set in 1968 and had not been updated in more than 40 years. Since then, significant improvements have taken place in the road and rail network and it is considered that the revised distance criterion is more consistent with the type of distances that students may legitimately be expected to commute to college. I hear what the Deputy has asked about how we measure the distance but it is done using Google Maps and not by using a postcode.
Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: I thank the Minister of State. These distances need to reflect the situation on the ground, as distinct from what can be seen from a desktop exercise, in cases where roads are unsuitable for travelling. For example students attending Cork Institute of Technology, CIT, would come in on the N40. While there is an off-ramp for them to take, Rossa Avenue is a one-way street and students are forced to go in through estates. However, when students are leaving the college they cannot get back onto the motorway in the same way. They have to take a different route. Those kinds of distances need to be taken into consideration. They are only small distances but for people on the edge it makes a significant difference to the level of grant they receive. Furthermore, the way the distance is calculated means that if a distance arrives out at 44.9 km, for example, it will rounded down to 44 km and not up to 45 km. It should be rounded to the nearest kilometre.
There are also roads that are unsuitable for travelling. For example in winter there are roads that are salted and roads that are not salted. People will travel the most suitable road. It will not necessarily be the mountain road that has the very poor quality surface as identified by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. These issues need to be taken into consideration. When would the Minister of State envisage a review being conducted on this issue?
Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: We have looked at it and we believe that it is a transparent process. I hear the Deputy’s comments but the process does indicate the shortest distance from A to B. As I said, we use Google Maps. I hear the Deputy’s argument, but at the moment there is no review under way.
Deputy Aindrias Moynihan: Can the Minister of State initiate a review or can these types of issue be taken into consideration for the purposes of appeals? We are only dealing with a handful of people along the edge. If there is no review for several months, can these issues be considered for appeal purposes? Can the Minister of State initiate a review on this as quickly as possible?
Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: There is an appeals system in place and we have specialist equipment to check the shortest distance. There is an appeals system in place.