Thursday 27 April 2017

Most expensive school cuts fees by a third to compete

Sally Gibbs, bursar at St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, says it has dropped fees in line with checking what their competitors are charging Photo: Caroline Quinn
Sally Gibbs, bursar at St Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, says it has dropped fees in line with checking what their competitors are charging Photo: Caroline Quinn
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The most expensive fee-paying school in the country has cut its fees by a third in order to compete with others in south Dublin.

The rate for day pupils at the prestigious St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, has dropped from €12,426 to €8,000, to bring it closer into line with its rivals.

Meanwhile, day boarder charges at the elite, 174-year-old school are down from €14,832 to €10,400,

Day boarders take supervised study and evening meals at the school, with junior pupils at St Columba's staying on until 8.30pm and Leaving Cert students remaining up to 10pm.

However, its fees for all-round seven-day boarders remain higher than any other school, at €22,350, for fourth to sixth years, although it is slightly lower for junior cycle students, at €18,621.

For years, the co-educational school had the distinction of topping the table in terms of fees for both its day and boarding pupils, which are a mix of Irish and international students.

St Columba's bursar, Sally Gibbs, told the Irish Independent: "We are in south Dublin, where there are lots of schools in the fee-charging sector and we felt we needed to be more competitive in the day market."

The elite school sits on a 150-acre site in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, and is alma mater to many well known names, including U2's Adam Clayton and former Fine Gael minister and broadcaster Ivan Yates.

The school mainly deals with boarding pupils, who number 240, and traditionally catered for 75 day pupils, but that is down to about 60.

Enrolments across the fee-paying sector suffered during the recession.

While other schools were enjoying a bounce in numbers again, St Columba's was not seeing the same recovery.

Ms Gibbs said they retained their fees at traditional levels and presumed that charges elsewhere would rise to close the gap, but that had not happened, while ongoing low inflation was also a factor.

While fees in private schools have been climbing again, increases are modest and typical day pupil rates elsewhere in south Dublin are in the €4,000 to€7,000 bracket.

Ms Gibbs said the dramatic drop in fees, which came into effect in September 2016, arose from their ongoing review of the situation in other schools with which they would compete for pupils.

She said: "Everybody else has kept fees steady. And we have to be the same."

There has been no fall off in boarding pupil enrolments. "We are absolutely full to capacity, We have 240 beds and 240 pupils," Ms Gibbs added.

She said there was quite a good conversion rate from day pupil to boarder, particularly as pupils approach Leaving Certificate.

Ms Gibbs said they had spread the word about the new fees structure, including to feeder primary schools.

Irish Independent

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