Ask Brian: What rights do I have if my college course ceases to operate?

All colleges are obliged to inform you about what kind of protection they provide

Question: I am considering taking up an offer of a place in a private college. Given the well-publicised closure of some private colleges in recent years, what safeguards exist in the event of the course not continuing, for whatever reason?

Answer: Every course validated by Quality Qualifications Ireland (QQI) provides safeguards under the Education (Amendment) Act 2012. This provides protection for enrolled learners in the form of either academic bonding or financial bonding.

All colleges are obliged under the 2012 Act to inform you as to what kind of bonding they operate.

Academic bonding provides an arrangement between the college where you are enrolled, and two other colleges which commit to teach out your course in the event of it being discontinued.

Under academic bonding you are guaranteed the opportunity to complete your course in the event of your course being discontinued for any reason. Any private colleges you are considering should tell you the names of the colleges to which you would transfer in the event of your course discontinuing.

If your college is a member of the Higher Education Colleges Association (HECA) and participates in its "protection for enrolled learners" scheme, you will be academically bonded.

This scheme, operated by 12 colleges, is backed by a trust fund growing at the rate of €500,000 a year. The scheme has been designed working closely with QQI, who audit it annually to ensure the capacity of the colleges to teach out courses.

If a college is a member of the HECA but does not participate in its “protection for enrolled learners” scheme, students will be financially bonded.

This means that if your course were to close, you would receive a refund of the fees most recently paid. Generally, this will be the tuition, exam, library fees, and so on, paid for the current year of your course.

The refund is to facilitate payment for re-teaching the year in question with another institution. Unless you can find another course, getting back year three fees in a four-year course is no great advantage.

Academic credits for your studies in earlier years of your programme can transfer to other courses.

Financial bonding is usually supported by an insurance policy to cover the fee refund risk. The disadvantage of this arrangement is where a course ceases close to the end of the academic year. The insurance company may offer “teach out” as an option to refund. While this might seem advantageous to students, the problem may lie in the following year when the insurance company has no obligation to continue the teach out.

Because some students may opt for a refund of fees, where this situation arises, the remaining students may find that they are an unviable cohort for course completion with another college.

The academic bonding solution providing for course completion is therefore preferable to students. Generally, academic bonding is to a student’s advantage. The Department of Education is currently considering eliminating the choice for colleges and making academic bonding compulsory. Currently, both options exist across private colleges – so before you commit to any course, be sure to enquire which is applicable.

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