Rising costs worsening college drop-out rate - students’ unions

UCD education officer: ‘Students have come in saying they can’t afford to go back to college’

Rising back-to-college costs mean a growing number of students are being forced to drop out of third-level education, according to students’ unions.

The cost of student fees, accommodation, course books, equipment and transport mean some students will be unable to continue their degrees this September.

UCD students' union education officer Robert Sweeney said he has already been dealing with students who have had to drop out of college for financial reasons.

“Students have come in who have said they can’t afford to go back to college. They have fees that they are already carrying over from last year that they haven’t been able to pay off, or exam repeat fees.


“People get really depressed about it, because they find they’ve got the Leaving Cert points, they’ve made their way into college, and then to be forced to take the year out - students get very despairing,” he said.

Irish college fees - the “student contribution charge” of €3,000 a year - is the second highest in the Europe, behind fees in England and Wales.

Karl Picard (23), a Masters student of political communications at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), does not receive any maintenance grant, and due to the high cost of rent in Dublin has had to commute from his home in Westmeath each morning this year.

‘Didn’t have any money’

“I’d wake up at 4:30am each morning to be on the 5:30am bus, which gets into Heuston Station in Dublin around 8am. I’d have my breakfast in the morning, but then just wouldn’t be able to eat during the day until 9pm when I got home, because I just didn’t have any money,” he said.

He said he was only able to afford the fees for his Masters degree by taking a loan from the credit union, on top of a loan he took out to cover the fees for his undergraduate degree. Karl said he worked two jobs while taking his undergraduate degree to keep afloat and make repayments on his loan.

Meanwhile, Rachel Cox (23), a final-year Irish and linguistics student at UCD, has taken out a bank loan of €3,000 to cover her college fees for the coming term.

‘Huge pressure’

“It has a massive effect trying to work and go to college, and have a life - the cost adds a huge pressure,” she said. “Each September you just ask yourself ‘How am I going to pay for this?’ - it’s massively expensive,” she said.

Many colleges also charge students if they need to repeat an exam - which can add up to serious costs if a student ends up failing two or three modules.

At UCD the repeat fees are €230 per module, but at Trinity College Dublin there is no cost to students. Maynooth has a minimum fee of €50, but caps the maximum a student has to pay at €280.

For students living away from home during college terms, accommodation and rent is one of the biggest costs. Prices for college-run accommodation can vary - from €6,200 for the September-May term at Dublin City University to about €5,000 at NUI Galway.

Standard rooms at UCD this September cost about €6,700, while a room at Trinity’s off-campus accommodation in Rathmines costs €5,500.

Spaces in most college rooms are reserved over the summer and quickly booked out by the start of term.

The increase in the student contribution to €3,000 and cuts to the maintenance grant in 2012 have put third-level education further out of reach for many people

UCD has issued a call to alumni “seeking help” and asking past students to consider renting a room in their homes to students. A “digs” arrangement allows a homeowner to collect up to €14,000 in rent tax-free from students.

Spaces limited

The market for privately run student housing is growing in Ireland, but spaces are already limited and rent is not cheap.

Aparto is a student accommodation management service running three student housing developments in Dublin.

One, Binary Hub, a 471-bed student housing development on Bonham Street in Dublin 8 is already booked out. Other student accommodation at Montrose by UCD, and Dorset Point in the city centre, are expected to be sold out by early September.

Standard rent in privately run accommodation developments in Dublin range from between €230 and €250 a week in a lot of cases.

Laptop a necessity

The cost of college course books and equipment is also a significant expense for many students and parents in September. College core textbooks can cost between €50 and €120 per module, which can add up to over €500 per college semester.

For students starting college for the first time, a laptop is a necessity for most courses, and a standard one can cost between €400 to €800.

Transport is also a big expense for students travelling home each weekend, or for those who rely on public transport to get to campus each day.

The cost of a Dublin Bus 30-day student “rambler” ticket, for example, has gone up from €86 in 2010 to €114.50.

An Irish Rail student return ticket from Dublin to most counties is between €22 and €36, which adds up if travelling home each weekend.

Financial assistance

Tricia Keilthy, social policy officer at the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SVP), said the charity gives financial assistance to hundreds of students each year around September towards the cost of fees, accommodation or books.

“The increase in the student contribution to €3,000 and cuts to the maintenance grant in 2012 have put third-level education further out of reach for many people,” she said.

Ms Keilthy said SVP has to "step into the breach to help meet third level costs, and without this support these students would not be able to take up a place at college".

All seven Irish universities run means-tested financial assistance funds to help students meet costs of key expenses.