Students feel pinch over bid for fee deposit
THOUSANDS of hard-up students are facing demands for a downpayment on their college registration charge, while awaiting approval for a grant.
A number of institutes of technology are seeking an upfront deposit on the annual €1,500 charge.
About half of students -- up to 30,000 -- in the 13 institutes of technology are in receipt of maintenance grants and many have to wait months for approval.
It is understood that some colleges were originally proposing a downpayment of €375, but there is now an agreement that the charge should not be more than €100.
As reports of the deposit emerged last week, Higher Education Authority (HEA) chief executive Tom Boland intervened; and in discussions with the Institutes of Technology Ireland, a maximum deposit of €100 was agreed.
Non-grant students pay the charge, which covers costs such as registration, exams and medical services, when they register at the start of the academic year or in instalments.
However, it is paid directly to the colleges by the State on behalf of students who have been approved for grants. In a change of policy this year, a number of colleges are asking students who have applied for grants to pay a deposit on registration, to be refunded when the state payment comes through.
The deposit is not required from students who have confirmation that they will receive a grant, but is sought in cases where they have only an acknowledgement of their application.
However, furious student leaders have pointed out that it can take months for the grant applications to be processed.
Higher education sources said, that in the current climate, colleges were feeling the pinch financially and, in previous years, were left short because some students whose grant applications were unsuccessful, did not subsequently pay the charge.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Gary Redmond said they were "very concerned" that students were being asked to pay this deposit towards the charge, while awaiting confirmation of their grant.
Mr Redmond said that, in previous years, students would have worked in the summer to pay the initial costs of college, including rent, books and utilities, but in the current economic climate this was impossible. He said in their first month at college, students faced average costs of about €1,148, including accommodation, utility bills, books, transport, college levies, and now a deposit on the registration charge for those awaiting grant approval.
He said that students were suffering at the hands of an outdated grant administration system that simply did not work and was operating at bursting point.
The USI and HEA say the solution to the problem is the long-promised centralised student grant agency to streamline the applications process.
The Institute of Technology Carlow said it had a flexible registration charge payment structure and each student was individually assessed in relation to their fee liability and payment on entry to the college.
Students in receipt of a grant confirmation letter were not required to pay any charges, while students who were not entitled to a grant may pay the charge by instalment, the first €375 at registration, and the remainder by January 31.
The college said students experiencing certain financial difficulties may be facilitated by paying a €100 deposit, which was refundable on grant approval and there had been exceptions made for individual students where necessary.