The Comptroller and Auditor General has recommended that the Department of Education revise its approach to planning for change, especially when it comes to complex and large-scale projects.

In a report published today, the C&AG is critical of aspects of planning prior to the establishment of third level grant application system SUSI.

It said more testing should have been conducted prior to its setting up and a deferral of its launch may have resulted.

Grant applicants experienced significant problems and delays during the first year of SUSI's operation.

Student Universal Support Ireland was set up in Autumn 2011 to replace 66 different grant awarding agencies.

A central aim, according to the Department of Education, was to save money by utilising significantly fewer staff and more efficient administrative practices.

However, the Department has told the C&AG it is not possible to evaluate whether or not SUSI has achieved the savings hoped for because both staffing and outsourcing levels required were significantly higher than first envisaged.

The C&AG is also critical of City of Dublin Education and Training Board, which administers SUSI, for departing from guidance and good practice in the outsourcing of work related to the scheme.

Cork-based company Abtran was contracted to provide call centre and document management services.

The report finds that while Abtran commenced work in January 2012 following a tendering process, the contract for service provision was not signed until more than a year later, in February 2013.

The C&AG said the receipt of, and payment for, services without having a signed contract in place exposed City of Dublin ETB to legal and financial risks.

It is recommended that the ETB strengthen its procurement and contracting processes.