Students who find that their college course doesn’t suit them may discover it’s costly to drop out – depending on which college they’re attending.
Most colleges offer a full refund up until 31 October, says Oisin Hassan, vice president for academic affairs at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
But not all of them do. “In terms of refund … there is great variation across the sector. There is a lack of regulation in this area, and that is of concern,” he says.
USI would like to see some more regulation, but the Department of Education says the colleges are autonomous and that it has no role in their day-to-day, operational affairs.
“The Governing Bodies and the management staff of the individual institutions are responsible for the determination of their policy relating to the refund of tuition fees,” said a spokesperson for the department.
Dublin City University
DCU appears to be the strictest, but says its actual policy is different from what is on its website.
“Students who withdraw before 31st of October – Liable to pay 50% Student Contribution”, says DCU’s website.
That appears to mean that if a student drops out at any stage after paying her fees, she forfeits 50 percent of her student contribution, which is around €1,500. (There’s an exception for those who leave to take up a higher-points course.)
But a spokesperson for DCU said by email that’s not the case. “There is a certain level of flexibility given each year and every application is assessed on a case-by-case basis,” she said.
This year DCU gave full refunds to anyone who left before 30 September, the spokesperson said. Some students had to drop out due to extenuating circumstances, and DCU then decided to extend the refund to all of those who dropped out before that date – seven people, she said.
The spokesperson didn’t really address why DCU has a stricter policy (online) on refunds than other colleges. “The DCU Policy is agreed each year by [the] Executive,” she said by email.
Trinity, UCD and DIT
Trinity will retain 50 percent of the student contribution (fees for the first semester), if a student drops out after 12 September, according to its website, but first-year undergrads get until 31 October.
Last year, 566 students withdrew from courses at Trinity, out of 25,018 who paid fees. Only 146 of those who withdrew did so in time to get all of their money back, according to documents provided by Trinity in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act.
The largest cohort of the students who withdrew from Trinity, 150 students, said the reason they were withdrawing was “course not as expected”, according to the documents. It seems there is no facility to get your money back if you are dissatisfied with the quality of tuition.
Trinity didn’t respond before publication to queries about why their policy is stricter than some other colleges.
Of the four big Dublin colleges, only DIT clearly states that students can change their minds for free right up until 31 October. However, they charge a €100 administration fee.
UCD will charge nothing at all, but they want to let them know on or before 20 October.
Why Drop Out?
In data provided by DCU for the last eight years, an average of 291 people dropped out each year. Last year, 17,100 students paid fees.
Of all those who left the college over those eight years, one student stated that their reason for leaving was that they “had trouble making friends”.
More common reasons for dropping out were that they changed their mind, they didn’t like the course, or the course was not what they expected. Financial reasons, health reasons, and personal reasons were also regularly cited.
“When students consider withdrawal it is always important to persuade them to seek thorough advice, and to consider all options,” says Hassan. “Withdrawing should be measured on all of the various factors, and not limited to financial pressure.
“When students withdraw it is very difficult to collect their opinions on the issue, as withdrawal usually means that they are unlikely to engage in anything related to their previous course of study,” he said.
People who drop out are a cohort that the USI would like to see more research on Hassan says, to get to the bottom of why people drop out. There is a lack of data on the issue in the UK too, he says.