College life will be a world apart from previous years for the students starting or returning to university this autumn. In the coming months, more students than ever before will receive their lectures online rather than in lecture halls - meaning that many are now likely to follow the bulk of their college courses from home.
Remote learning will trigger additional costs for parents of college students and for the students themselves - due to the extra time being spent at home and the increased reliance on and need for home technology.
Here are eight things worth knowing which could help reduce the cost of remote learning.
You may be in line for a free laptop
Parents who are struggling financially and who cannot afford a laptop for a child attending college may be able to get one through a Government-backed college scheme. Around 17,000 laptops are to be given to third-level students over the upcoming academic year as part of a €168m Government package to assist third-level institutions cope with the impacts of Covid-19 and to help address the digital divide between rich and poor. The 17,000 laptops will be made available to disadvantaged students through targeted lending and rental schemes - which will be run by the third-level institutions themselves.
Students should contact the access office in their college if they want to get a laptop through the scheme. Documents may need to be provided to prove a genuine need for a laptop. "The third-level institution may seek appropriate documentation to prioritise applications, including proof of the income of the student or parent - as appropriate, and receipts for costs such as rent, bills or childcare," said a spokeswoman for the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
You may get digout for daily bills
You can expect higher heating, electricity and phone bills if your child is studying from home for much of the coming academic year. Similarly if your child has moved away from home to attend college and is renting a property, household bills in the rental property are also likely to be higher due to the longer spells off campus. Your child may qualify for a digout from the State's Student Assistance Fund (SAF) which provides financial support to full or part-time students who are experiencing financial difficulties while attending college to help towards those additional household costs. The amount awarded under the SAF typically ranges from €400 to €1,500, depending on the individual student, according to a spokeswoman for the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT).
You'll save with new energy supplier
Given the higher heating and electricity bills you're likely to face with a remote learner at home, it's more important than ever to get the best energy deals.
"You can save €453 a year by switching to a cheaper energy provider," said Eoin Clarke, managing director of switcher.ie. "If you've been with the same energy supplier for more than a year, it's most likely that you are on standard tariffs [where you are not getting a discount for your electricity or heating]."
Time to avoid long student leases
Rent is by far the highest cost faced by students living away from home.
Given the large amount of time which students are likely to spend at home this academic year, signing a long-term lease with a landlord and paying rent for the full year may not make financial sense. Booking accommodation for a night or two a week to coincide with the days your child will be on campus (if on campus at all) might be wisest.
A B&B or hire of a room in a family home could be the most suitable options - unless you have a relative who will put your child up.
If on-campus accommodation is an option, check if any flexible rental arrangements are being offered by the college which might allow accommodation to be rented for a day or two a week. Dublin City University (DCU) for example has put a flexible booking system in place for its on-campus accommodation.
"Students will be able to book on-campus accommodation for specific days, weeks or months for the 2020/2021 academic year," said the DCU spokesman.
Trinity College Dublin has reserved a limited number of rooms in its on-campus accommodation for short-term lets.
WIT is exploring offering a flexi-stay option - where students can rent for three or five nights at a rate of €40 a night.
You should be able to get a refund of any deposit paid towards on-campus accommodation if you have recently changed your mind about renting it for the full academic year - though you must usually give the college sufficient notice and you may need to cancel before a particular date.
Time to get flexible travel tickets
Buying an annual, monthly or even weekly commuter ticket is likely to be a waste of money for a student studying from home for much of the year. Go for flexible tickets which would better suit an occasional commute into college instead. Dublin Bus's 5- or 30-day student rambler tickets for example can be used for unlimited travel on consecutive or non-consecutive days. A student Leap card is also a good idea. Bus Eireann says its student Leap card works out 30pc cheaper than single cash fares while Dublin Bus says Leap card fares are almost a fifth cheaper than paying in cash. At Dublin Bus and Luas, student fares are capped daily at €5.00 and weekly at €20.00, if a student Leap card is used.
Cycling of course is one of the cheapest ways to commute to college - for those who can do so.
Free tech tools could save money
"Students largely won't be meeting face-to-face - so having social interaction with other students online will be important," said Clarke. "To keep the cost of online interaction down, use tools like Google Meet, Zoom and Skype."
You can get a certain amount of free video calls with Zoom and Google Meet. Skype-to-Skype voice calls are free and you can also make free Skype-to-Skype video calls for up to 50 people.
Being tech savvy could save money
Don't rush to upgrade to more expensive broadband if your home internet is slow. You may be able to boost your broadband speed by taking a few simple steps.
For example, moving your modem might speed up your internet.
"It's always best practice to keep your modem out in the open in the house - rather than in a cabinet - to ensure you have a stronger Wifi signal throughout the house," said Clarke. "You may need a Wifi booster to boost the signal in areas of your home that have a weak signal."
Your broadband could be sluggish if there are a lot of people at home using it at the same time. "If you have four or five people at home and you are all working or studying from home and depending on the same wireless, connecting to the internet through the Bluetooth on your mobile phone could be a simple way to get a good connection," said Mark Browne, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning in DCU.
Bear in mind though that connecting to the internet through your mobile phone may not be the cheapest way to use the internet.
Time to get tax back on college fees
Most third-level education institutions - including DCU, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, WIT and University College Cork - have no plans to cut tuition fees for the upcoming academic year to reflect the increased move towards online learning. Colleges maintain that a high quality of learning will still be delivered through blended learning and so for that reason, fees will not be cut.
You usually do not have to pay tuition fees if your child is attending their first full-time undergraduate course in a publicly funded third-level institution.
However, if you are paying fees for a post-graduate or part-time course - or for a child repeating the year, be sure to claim any tax relief you may be entitled to on those fees.
One of the biggest college bills facing many parents is the student contribution fee - currently €3,000 per student. Remember, the tax relief on tuition fees allows you to claim back up to a fifth of the cost of the student contribution charge - for any second or subsequent children in third-level education.
In recent weeks, the Government has said that it would consider reducing the student contribution fee. Time will tell.
“Broadband is probably going to be the most essential utility for students [in the current academic year],” said Eoin Clarke of switcher.ie. “Students may have to download notes, log into college platforms, watch lectures online and so on — so they’ll need good broadband. For a student, a broadband-only deal may be the best option. Some of the cheapest broadband-only deals are between €25 and €30 a month.”
You can get standalone broadband for €29.99 a month through Eir’s online-only broadband deal. This comes with a 12-month contract and must be ordered online. With this product, you can get broadband speeds of up to 100Mb — but only if you have Eir Fibre. Otherwise, you can expect broadband speeds of up to 24Mb if getting Eir broadband over a copper line.
Sky’s cheapest standalone broadband package is Sky Broadband Fibre to the Home (FTTH). It costs €30 a month and has a 12-month contract. The cost of this package increases to from €85 a month after the first 12 months. It offers broadband speeds of up to 500Mb if you have a fibre connection into your home.
The cheapest standalone broadband from Vodafone is Simply Broadband or 500 Fibre Broadband — at a cost of €30 a month. There is a 12-month contract with either product. Broadband speeds are up to 100Mb with Simply Broadband or up to 500Mb with Fibre Broadband. You must have a fibre connection into your home to get the faster Fibre Broadband product. Vodafone is currently offering its 500 Fibre Broadband for the same price as its Simply Broadband.
The cheapest standalone broadband package from Magnet is Fatpipe 24 — and this costs €20 a month for the first three months and €30 a month thereafter, with a minimum contract of 18 months. Fatpipe 24 offers speeds of up to 24Mb. Magnet’s Fatpipe 100 offers speeds of up to 100Mb — at a cost of €49.99 a month for 12 months.
Virgin Media’s 250Mb Broadband — which costs €35 a month for six months and €59 monthly thereafter — is its cheapest standalone broadband package. There is a 12-month contract with this product and it has speeds of up to 250Mb.
Phone and broadband bundle
You may be able to get a phone and broadband deal for a similar price to a broadband-only deal. For example, Eir has a broadband and landline deal for €29.99 a month (the same price as its standalone broadband deal) — as long as the bundle is bought online.
Sunday Indo Business