PhD student has monthly grant cut by €400 over Google Maps calculation

A PhD student will have her monthly grant cut by €400 after a shorter route to her university was calculated via an unnamed road on Google Maps.

Niamh Dillon, who is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Limerick, will see her Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant cut after the awarding body calculated a shorter distance for her to travel to university.

Although Ms Dillon’s address remains unchanged in the year since she last qualified for the grant, SUSI has determined she can now travel a distance of 42.8 km to university compared to 47km in 2018. This brings her journey below the 45km qualifying travel distance for the maintenance grant.

“I’m going to lose out on €400 each month because of Google Maps,” Ms Dillon said.

There was a scholarship available but I didn’t apply for it because I thought I had the grant. I don’t know how I am going to afford this.

The grant system measures distances for maintenance grants at both the adjacent and non-adjacent rate using travel by car via Google Maps, selecting the shortest route without tolls.

Three possible Google Maps routes were identified by SUSI, including a 61.1km distance taking 55 minutes to travel by car as well as a 47.6km and a 42.8km route, which according to Google Maps both take 50 minutes to travel.

Ms Dillon also believes an incorrect Eir-Code may have been used when assessing the distance she travels, as she studies in a building on the UL campus a further 1.2km away.

A SUSI spokeswoman said that rates for eligible students are determined in line with the student grant scheme and guidelines from the Department of Education. Google Maps is a “standardised” method of calculating the rate that offers transparency to students, she added: “SUSI uses the Eircode of the campus the student attends and if a student has provided SUSI with their Eircode then this is used also.”

Students have the right to appeal to SUSI if they feel it has not calculated their rate correctly and then can appeal to the independent student grants appeals board, she noted.

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