Saturday 21 September 2019

Students in limbo as course gets pulled

David Looby interviews three students who are out of pocket and unsure as to their futures

Three social care students from New Ross have been left in limbo after the Health & Social Care Professionals Council (CORU) changed the criteria meaning they can't progress into the course in IT Carlow's Wexford campus and have effectively lost out on a year of college.

Aine Dunphy, Keri Murray and Ciara Murphy all attended the Waterford College of Further Education (WCFE) for two years, having left New Ross CBS to pursue their dream careers.

The three friends signed up to the Social Care Programme in WCFE under the condition that they were guaranteed advanced entry into Year 2 of the IT Carlow Wexford Campus upon successful completion.

They completed the programme at the end of April and received distinctions and merits in their exams.

When the students emailed IT Carlow about their course they were informed that they no longer qualified as CORU informed IT Carlow that under new standards, the current programme with advanced admission into Year 2 would not meet their requirements.

Also under the 'new' standard, there is no provision for a 'catch up module'.

The students, accompanied by Wexford County Council chairman Cllr Michael Sheehan, attended a meeting with management at IT Carlow earlier this month and following this were informed by email last Tuesday that €800 of the €2,490 fees would be waived.

Aine said: 'This is my worst nightmare. Since I was very young I always wanted to do social work and to work with children. We were told that when we completed our Level 5 course we would go into 2nd Year in IT Carlow.'

Aine said she loved the course which was taught by Wexford lecturer Shane Dunphy. 'It was really good. I couldn't wait to go further in my studies and get my degree. Four of us were due to go on to IT Carlow but they emailed us in late April, early May saying they weren't taking us on this year. They said they put up a red flag to WCFE in February. When we finished college they said there was no way this could happen.'

Aine said for the four to be notified at the end of the academic year was a huge blow.

'We were completely shocked. Waterford college never said anything to us about this. It was only when we went to apply for IT Carlow and there was no option for Level 7 Social Care that we found out. We emailed and they said it's not open for the academic year, 2019.'

She said she was thrilled to get distinctions in her results, having spent a lot of money attending the course and having put a lot of work into the continual assessments.

'I only got €135 a month. I'm living at home in the Bullawn. To be honest I'm angry. I just don't think it's fair. It's not just me. I don't know what to do, especially with the expense involved.'

She said moving to a different college was stressful enough, as public transport to the IT Carlow Wexford campus isn't great.

'They say they are crying out for social care workers and for people to do courses. We asked IT Carlow if we could do a catch up model and they said no.'

Aine said if she and her college friends had gone into second year they would only have had two more years in college but now they are facing into three.

'So all together we'd be doing five years to get our degrees. Straight away after the meeting we were all crying. We're after working so hard for this and they just wanted us to go.'

Keri Murray said: 'It's not fair. This is their mistake. We have financial pressures.'

Ever since 3rd Year Keri's dream was to be a social worker.

'It's something I felt I would be good at. I was delighted to get the course and it was so interesting and so different from secondary school.'

She said the offer of waiving less than one third of the course fees isn't good enough for her, Aine or Ciara.

'We can't pay that each year for two years. We are all in part-time jobs so there is no way we can even afford it. We don't live out of our parents' pockets. We are independent.'

Keri said if the CORU changed the criteria in September it would have been far less of an issue.

'They changed it at a time when us students were doing our best to get the results we needed. We had our hopes up about getting into college.'

Keri said she, Aine and Ciara were encouraged at the end of their first year to do a second year at WCFE as that would get them into 2nd Year at Carlow IT.

She said: 'The year wasn't a waste because no year in college is a waste. But when we are breaking our backs to get money, working weekends, while doing a full time course, getting buses; it just means another year of doing that. I am here fighting for my education to pursue my dream job,'

Ciara said: 'One of the girls in my class got an email stating about CORU in March. However, we were still told it was going to be resolved and that there was a final meeting that was going to be held on May 30 to make the final decision on the advanced entry. We did not hear anything until I emailed a women from Carlow IT on June 16 and that's when we were told that there was no hope of us getting in.'

Cllr Sheehan said: 'The students have now been told that the agreement and plan they signed up to will not be honoured. They could either go back to CAO entry Year 1 or part time and then 'Grandparent' their accreditation. The deadline for CAO has expired. They have no place FE position this autumn. As it stands, they have completed their programme but frankly, it isn't of any purpose due to the new standards applied midway during the academic year. It doesn't allow progression to year 2, if they want to progress, they have to go back to the start of Year 1. Arguably, in real terms it's been a lost year - but not in soft skills.'

Cllr Sheehan said he remains unclear as to whether CORU are enforcing or encouraging the new standards or IT Carlow. 'No one has said exactly why the students must either restart or be obliged to have an employer with a guaranteed two year contract upon completion of the part-time option. The students, clearly do not have the full financial wherewithal for full-time education in terms of fees, costs, transport and outlay.'

Part-time studying would not be eligible for financial assistance and the associated costs, he added.

Cllr Sheehan said: 'I know IT Carlow were very understanding but also firm in the option of advance entry. Any move would require support for the students in terms of admission and support for either the year or part-time option. They are at a significant loss here. I feel that the students have a contract that has not been honoured - by both or either side. This needs a remedy from all concerned. There is scope for a legal review on this issue, or at the very least a parliamentary query from the Minister and CORU.'

New Ross Standard