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'Not at the moment': Universities don't plan to refund fees for this or the next academic year

NUI Galway is offering students a reduced rent rate next year due to the ‘hybrid’ way universities are expected to operate.

Image: Shutterstock/wk1003mike

MOST UNIVERSITIES AND third-level colleges are returning rent fees to students, while also facing a €500 million funding gap because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This estimate by the Higher Education Authority poses a significant problem for universities: squeezed from all sides by a drop in international students, a drop in advertising, and a loss in on-campus accommodation fees.

Seven Irish universities that have on-campus accommodation have committed to refunding students their rent payments for on-campus accommodation for students who travelled back home during the lockdown. 

NUI Galway have already refunded students; Trinity College Dublin said that they would refund students by June.  

University of Limerick confirmed on Friday that it was refunding students from the date they left their student accommodation to the end of the semester. This amount is worth €3.45 million, it said.

Waterford IT said that its campus accommodation “continues to operate as normal, providing facilities to our residents, to whom we have a duty of care and a contractual obligation”.

When asked whether accommodation fees would be returned, it said that “a number of students remain in the residences”, and so “at this present time they will not be returned”.

Aside from the rent refund issue, there is also a growing call to refund registration fees for the 2019/20 academic year – over 1,000 UCD students have signed a petition, making the point that what they paid for in registration fees is not what they got from their academic year.

The second half of this academic year has been severely curtailed by the lockdown, and the same is expected for the beginning of next year: work placements and the Erasmus programme have been cancelled, and students have lost access to third-level resources that allows them to build up practical skills. 

DCU has said that it would be introducing a “hybrid” academic year between virtual and face-to-face lessons.

While university fees are waived for Irish students for their first undergraduate degree, international students pay tens of thousands of euros to study in Irish third-level institutions. 

So are they considering refunding students, either this year or next? Not at the moment.

Trinity College Dublin

When asked whether Trinity College Dublin was considering refunding students for this academic year, a spokesperson said “No”.

“The campus was forced to close, but the university has remained fully operational and has continued to deliver teaching and run assessments in line with government and health guidelines, enabling all students to complete the degrees they are studying for.”

When asked whether they were considering cutting down on fees for the coming academic year, since there will be a mixed blend of online learning and teaching in-person, a spokesperson said “No, not at the moment”.

“We are working hard to deliver a comprehensive, enriching and rewarding college experience to all students in the upcoming year.

While there will be an element of online teaching and learning, we anticipate a blended learning approach with as much face-to-face teaching and learning as possible under prevailing health and safety requirements at the time.

Technological University Dublin (TUD)

In a statement, the university said that it wanted to assure students that the course and the qualification they are pursuing “retains its academic and professional integrity and recognition”.

“While teaching will be blended, and no doubt will include more virtual classes than previously, the quality of the programme cannot be allowed to diminish.  In TU Dublin, the experience of being in small class groups and of getting to know (and being known by) lecturers and tutors is an integral part of the university experience so we will be making every effort to retain this essential experience while following public health guidelines and ensuring the safety of everyone on campus.

This work has retained the integrity of our programmes and assessments, and so the University is not considering any fee refunds for this academic year or 2020/21.

NUI Galway

A spokesperson for NUIG said that it would be reducing the cost of on-campus accommodation for the next academic year:

“In the face of the current challenging financial context faced by our students,  NUI Galway has agreed to provide a rebate to students in university accommodation equivalent to the planned 3-4% increase in the rental cost of on-campus student accommodation for the Academic Year 2020/21.” 

In the event of changes to the duration of the academic year arising from Covid-19 restrictions, rent will only be charged on a pro-rata basis for the revised dates.

“For the next academic year, the University is currently planning the mode of delivery of courses in line with public health advice.  The University is focused on delivering a high quality educational and social experience next year, for our communities on campus or online as required.”

University of Limerick (UL)

A spokesperson for UL said that the university would “facilitate online, remote, blended and face-to-face learning as well as other forms of interactive engagement for 2020-21″.

“Semester 1 of the academic year 20/21 will commence on September 28 for all students.

“At this point, we intend to offer students blended delivery of their academic programmes with some on campus face-to-face teaching as well as online teaching and learning. We are exploring the feasibility of blended delivery of our education programmes keeping in mind that we may have to shut the campus at any time.

UL will not be part refunding course fees for this academic year, nor is a reduction in course fees for the next academic year being considered.

It added that it has put a recruitment freeze in place, which is in line with other institutions and will be “in place for the immediate future”. 

As the national plan for the return to normal operations unfolds WIT will publish more detail on its September start.

University College Cork (UCC)

In a statement, UCC said that is “working towards a gradual and safe return to campus in line with national public health guidance. September 28 has been confirmed as the start date for the 20/21 academic year, and further details on the format of this academic year will be communicated shortly. UCC will facilitate instalment fee payments to assist its students if required.

“The length of lease in UCC accommodation for the 2020/2021 academic year has been reduced to 34 weeks, as opposed to 37 weeks in previous years.”

Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)

WIT said that it “is actively planning for how the college will operate based upon a number of key principles”.

“We intend to create a student experience that will involve on-campus activity appropriate to the individual programme of study and proportionate to the learning required by the student but mindful of the requirements on national health advice and the absolute need to maintain a safe environment for all our community.

“Students can therefore expect to be present on campus for at least part of their studies while also expecting greater use of Moodle and other online tools to support and enhance the learning experience.”

Students can also expect to see new mandatory behaviour rules and routines designed to ensure WIT minimises the risk of coronavirus spread.
WIT Campus Accommodation will continue to provide the same service to all our students throughout the academic year. Therefore we don’t envisage a reduction in rates.

The Institute of Technology Carlow said that it “has continued to provide full academic programmes and student services to all students through online teaching and assessment. There will be no refund of fees”.

When Athlone Institute of Technology was asked whether fees would be reduced for the next academic year, it said that it was “not known at this time”, but clarified that it would be providing “full academic and ancillary services” to all students.

UCD was also contacted for comment, but did not reply at the time of publishing this article 

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