UNIVERSITIES and institutes of technology across the country are owed millions in unpaid student fees.
Several leading institutions have revealed they are owed large sums by both current and former students.
As a consequence of outstanding fees, two universities – University of Limerick (UL) and Dublin City University (DCU) – have hired debt collectors to recoup finances.
Neither UL nor DCU would clarify how long they have been using the collection agencies.
UL is pursuing student fees that date back to the 1990s, while DCU has refused to state if it is chasing down current or former students, or both.
University College Dublin (UCD) is in the process of hiring a debt collection company.
The minimum value of the contract is in excess of €200,000 annually. Of the country's other universities, NUI Maynooth has not replied to any queries regarding debt collectors, while Trinity College, NUI Galway and University College Cork do not use them. Trinity College is owed €200,000 by former students.
None of the other universities have disclosed how much they are owed but it is understood to be a considerable figure.
Third-level students are paying annual contribution fees of €2,250, which covers the cost of student services and examinations.
This will rise to €2,500 in September. Of the 14 institutes of technology, only IT Tralee has not provided any response as to whether it uses debt collection agencies.
Galway-Mayo IT is owed €213,000 by former students and graduates going back as far as 2007/08, while Limerick IT is owed €111,887 since 2009/10.
Dublin Institute of Technology is owed €200,000 since 2007, while the Institute of Technology Tallaght is waiting on €1.3m from current students.
A spokesman for IT Carlow said the college is owed a small amount by a handful of former students.
Dun Laoghaire IADT has been left with a debt of €750,000 by former students.
IT Sligo is owed €1.5m by current students, while outstanding fees since 2010/11 amount to €245,000.
Other institutes – Cork, Athlone, Letterkenny, Dundalk, Blanchardstown, Waterford and Tralee – have not disclosed how much they are due from current or former students.
The Department of Education said all higher education institutes are autonomous bodies and the department has no role in their day to day operational affairs.
"However, the department would hope that institutions deal with students in a sensitive and understanding manner in relation to the payment of any outstanding arrears," a spokesman said.