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Sunday 28 May 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Shutterstock/Lisandro Luis Trarbach Aerial view of a beach in An Cheathrú Rua, Connemara, Co Galway.
# coláiste cholumba
'This money is badly needed': Mother urges Irish college to get in touch with parents about refunding fees
A mother has said that she doesn’t understand why Coláiste Cholumba hasn’t been in touch with parents, as other Irish colleges have done.

A MOTHER WHO had paid almost €1,000 for her daughter to attend an Irish-language course has said that she and other parents haven’t been informed about their refunds, and has urged the Galway Gaelcholáiste to get in touch with parents.

The woman enrolled her daughter in Coláiste Cholumba’s July course, but on 20 April, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht announced that Irish summer college courses would be cancelled this year in the interests of protecting public health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Coláiste Cholumba said on 27 March – the date that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that vulnerable people would have to cocoon and only essential journeys are permitted – that it would close its offices, which was the final update it posted to its Facebook page.

Since late March, this mother says that the An Cheathrú Rua Irish college hasn’t been providing updates to parents about whether they would receive refunds, during what is a very stressful time for families.

“My husband lost his job in March, I have been on unpaid leave and we have three kids,” she said. “This money is badly needed to help cover some bills.”

She has paid €950 in total: a deposit of €250, plus three instalments of €242.33. 

Department’s announcement

On 28 May, Minister of State for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands Seán Kyne, announced a “once-off” emergency measure worth €4.7m package to support the stabilisation of the Gaeltacht Irish summer college sector.

Under the stability fund, up to €3.1m will be directed at supporting the college authorities to refund fees/deposits to parents while a further €1.6m is being allocated under the measure towards offsetting losses incurred by up to 700 certified Gaeltacht householders who normally keep students attending one of the recognised 42 colleges during the summer months.

This €3.07 million fund amounts to a “maximum” payment of €150 per student, or 15% of the total fee.

The Department gives this example in a Q&A document:

If the college has accepted deposits/fees in respect of 500 students up to 20 April and the course fee is €900 per student, the college would be entitled to apply for 15% of the fee (up to €150) in respect of each student under the terms of this initiative, as follows:
€900 @ 15% = €135 x 500 students = €67,500, subject to satisfactory compliance with the conditions of the initiative.

Screenshot 2020-06-10 at 18.49.56 Department of Culture Department of Culture

The aim of this fund by the Department is to safeguard an industry that teaches 27,000 students annually, provides seasonal employment to 2,200 people in 700 Gaeltacht households, and generates around €50 million annually for Gaeltacht areas.

The Department also says that it hopes the fund will enable Irish colleges “to defray insofar as is reasonably possible, the administrative costs already incurred to date by college authorities”.

It says that this “critically includes the collection of booking deposits/fees from prospective students/parents/guardians and ensure the repayment in full of these deposits/fees to parents/guardians”.

A lack of communication

The mother who spoke to says that she doesn’t understand why there is a lack of communication from Coláiste Cholumba, as other colleges have been in touch with parents about the refund process.

When tried to call Coláiste Cholumba, an automated message was played with no option to leave a voicemail. When an email was sent to the school, an automated reply was sent with the same message played on the phone:

It was announced last Friday [no specific date mentioned] that the department of the Gaeltacht are providing a stability fund for Irish summer colleges. Once we have received full clarity and details on this we will be in contact with all our customers. We hope to have details to you before the end of the week.
Once again we thank all our customers for their continued support and patience through this difficult process.

One comment on the college’s Facebook page, dated four weeks ago, asks:

“Could we please have an update, no response to email or phone. I have a separate booking with Colaiste na bhFiann and they are in constant contact and processing refunds. An update would be appreciated.”

An email was sent on 18 May to update parents, which acknowledges the “frustration” of parents about “the provision of information to date” and says that “this is not intentional”.

It also says that it “envisages” that the college would be in contact with students by the end of May, or the beginning of June “at the latest”.

We are conscious that our students and parents are seeking clarity regarding this year’s courses in Coláiste Cholumba due to the recent announcement that all Gaeltacht Summer Courses have been cancelled for 2020.
Coláiste Cholumba and our staff have been anxious to consider, formulate and communicate options to our students. In order to do so we require access to records and documents in our office and, like us all, have been frustrated by the lockdown in place, the travel restrictions & the social distancing which will be in place for the near future.
When the more severe restrictions are lifted we will be in a position to examine the options referred to above in order to ascertain which are viable, feasible and practical. 

“Once this process is concluded we will make contact with all students & parents to see which option they wish to select. Please note: We envisage that this will be towards the end of May/early June at the latest.” 

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