Colleges are owed €17m from struggling students
Universities across the country are owed more than €17m as students struggle to pay increased tuition fees.
Seven of the country's main universities are struggling to collect student fees and, combined, are in debt to the tune of €17,028,490.
The figures released to the Irish Independent paint a bleak economic picture of Irish institutions with officials warning the debt is adding enormous pressure to their day-to-day running costs.
However, student groups said the main reason for the increasing debt level is increasing fees which have risen from €1,500 in 2010 to their current level of €3,000.
Despite the sums involved, most universities are refraining from using debt collection agencies to pursue students.
University Limerick (UL) has the highest amount of fees owed - €5,214,947 - with some of this described as historic debt.
The total for this year is €2,360,743, while the amount more than two-years-old stands at €1,595,261.
A spokesman for UL confirmed "delays in payment can have an impact on cash-flow" and the university offers "flexible payment options to students".
The spokesman confirmed that while 2,360 students owe money, it does not use debt collectors.
NUI Galway is owed €4,134,000 which has accumulated over the past five academic years. A spokesman said where a student "refuses to engage" to resolve the debt, the university may refer the matter to "legal advisors".
Trinity College is owed €2.6m even though students have the opportunity to pay fees in two instalments during the year. It does not use debt collectors and has not issued proceedings against any student for unpaid student fees.
University College Cork (UCC) is owed €1,853,000. A total of €1,747,000 relates to the period from September 2014 to July 2015. Some €106,000 relates to the previous academic year. UCC outlined that "access privileges to student services" such as the library are removed if students fail to make payments.
A UCC spokeswoman confirmed that while a debt collector is not used - students who fail to pay fees are hit with "late fee penalties" amongst other measures.
"Students with outstanding fee liabilities are not permitted to graduate with their class until fees are paid in full," the spokeswoman added.
Maynooth University said the outstanding tuition fees amount to €1,369,917, with the debt ranging from two-to- five years.
A spokeswoman for Maynooth said they don't engage with debt collectors although a staff member has been "specifically resourced to resolve all cases over the next 12 months".
The largest university in the country, UCD, is owed €1,264,695. Its decision to use debt collectors appears to have encouraged students to pay.
"The outsourcing of the collection of outstanding monies was the result of a lack of internal resources to conduct the service.
"It is expected that a percentage of outstanding monies will be recouped as a result of this process that might otherwise be lost," said a UCD spokesman.
DCU is owed €591,931, the lowest amount out of the main universities. It confirmed it uses a "third party agency" to follow up on outstanding fees.
President of The Union of Students in Ireland, Kevin Donoghue, said the current fee is too high. "People are not paying the debt because they can't afford it . . . At €3,000 our fees are the second highest in Europe . . . With such high fees of course we will have those who can't pay.