Give me a crash course in. . . college refunds

Complaints are giving rise to concerns over third-level quality

Refunds at NUI Galway are giving rise to wider concerns over the quality of programmes at third level.

So, students are getting their money back for university courses. What on Earth is going on?

Yes, dozens of journalism students at NUI Galway have received refunds worth thousands of euro over several years on foot of complaints over the quality of the course. A university board upheld the complaints. It found they stemmed a range of issues such as difficulties replacing staff on sick leave, sub- standard specialist equipment and poor management.

What, exactly, were students complaining about?

Some reported that they had to pay for equipment themselves or had to share access to cameras or voice recorders; software for use in radio broadcasts was out of date; timetables for semesters arrived late; there was little or no help in organising work placements.


College is expensive these days. How much were they refunded?

It varies. Most postgraduate students who complained received between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of their course fees, or between €2,000 and €4,000. Some undergraduates in more recent years received full refunds for their third year, about €3,000 in most cases.

Did they still get degrees at the end of it all?

Yes – students who completed their courses received their qualifications on the basis that key elements of the courses were successfully delivered. However, the college’s complaints board found shortcomings “negatively impacted on the educational experience of students” in some instances.

So, what about the quality of courses across third level generally?

Many higher education institutions say they are struggling to cope with falling State investment.

Student/staff ratios have increased significantly and many students complain that facilities can often be overcrowded, with outdated technology and reduced access to one-on-one tutorials.

A report commissioned by a State advisory body recently found some courses were reaching “crisis” point, though it also found colleges were performing well in protecting the quality of their offerings.

Is anyone actually monitoring the quality of courses?

Irish higher education institutions have primary responsibility for reviewing and improving their own quality.

So they examine themselves. How can a student really be sure a course is of decent quality?

Most institutions publish the results of their quality reviews online, though they can be hard to find and aren't always enlightening. Your best bet is to talk to current or former students about their impressions. A new tech start-up, for example,, says it will link school-leavers to students in courses across various institutions so they can find out what programmes are really like.

Back in my day students just put up and shut up. They don’t seem to hold back in their complaints nowadays, do they?

It's fair to say there's been shift in the attitude of students who, increasingly, see themselves as consumers and are willing to call out what they see as poor standards. Given they are paying the second-highest fees in Europe, it's not hard to see why.

– Carl O’Brien, Education Editor