Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn is urging Leaving Cert students who may be entitled to grant aid in college next year to apply as early as possible.

A new unified third-level grants system - called Students Universal Support Ireland - has been introduced.

The Department of Education said the new system means students will no longer have to wait months for their first grant cheques and it will deliver significant savings for the Exchequer.

Under the SUSI system, students apply online and once successful will receive monthly electronic transfers into their bank accounts.

When fully up and running the new system is expected to result in savings to the State of €5 million per annum and will reduce the number of staff involved in processing applications from 170 to 65.

41% of all undergraduate students receive State grants to help them go to college.

Mr Quinn said they do not have to know what course they will be taking to make an early grant application through the new system.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Minister Quinn said thousands of students have already done so under the new system.

SUSI replaces the previous system, which was administered by 66 different county councils and Vocational Education Committees across the country.