Ask Brian: How much will an ETB course cost?

Costs vary significantly between training centres and post-Leaving Cert colleges

PROBLEM: I would like to do a course at my local Education Training Board, but I'm not sure if I can afford it. Could you advise on financial supports or costs associated with taking such programmes?

ADVICE: Since 2013 the old network of vocational education committees has been replaced by Education Training Boards. A student can take a course through two types of provider under these new structures: training centres (previously operated by Fás) and post-Leaving Cert colleges.

Both offer effectively the same courses in many cases, leading to identical levels of education and training. However, the costs associated with each option are very different.

A student in the PLC colleges system will quite possibly be open to a range of fees, levies and charges. Yet a student in a training centre will face no such charges. Indeed, a student who opts to take the course in a training centre might be entitled to an additional stipend while doing the course, which is not on offer to students who opt to take it in a PLC college. This has put PLC colleges at a huge disadvantage and left many of them struggling to attract students.


To exacerbate the problem PLC colleges face in attracting and retaining students, the entitlement to vital supports has been cut in recent years. For example, a student who started a PLC course and who qualified to receive the back to education allowance received a sum of €500 towards the cost of their course, as well as keeping their existing social welfare entitlements.

This lump sum was initially reduced to €300 and then fully abolished. This means students who are trying to upskill in order to gain employment are receiving no additional funds to cover the costs of attending college, such as books, materials, bus fares and so on.

A principal of a PLC college tells me that college is proving too expensive for many welfare-dependent students. He says a number of enthusiastic students ended up broken-hearted after they had to give up courses because they could not make ends meet. A further financial consideration that students considering a PLC course must factor in is the €200 levy introduced at the height of the financial crisis. Some students are exempt, such as medical card-holders and those in receipt of the Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme.

The same principal told me his college had just received a cheque from one student for this €200 levy, which was written on the student's behalf by the St Vincent de Paul Society. He pointed out that he had received similar cheques in previous years and found it difficult to have to cash such cheques.

A review of this sector by the Department of Education is under way and due to be published in March 2016. It urgently needs to address the disconnect between encouraging more practically orientated students to consider further education and training, and the seemingly contradictory levies and charges that apply to those who aspire to choose this option.

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Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney

Brian Mooney is a guidance counsellor and education columnist. He contributes education articles to The Irish Times