THIRD level students are being forced to drop out of college because they cannot afford to pay the €800 registration fee, according to the chaplain in the Castlebar campus of GMIT.
Speaking at an education seminar in GMIT last week, Fr Michael Murphy said that many students neglect their studies in order to earn the money to pay for the registration fee, which is compulsory for all students who do not receive maintenance grants. In addition, he said many students who expect to receive grants are forced to pay the registration fee up front, due to the backlog in administering grant forms.
“If you are depending on your grant and have not yet received it, what chance have you of remaining in college? I had a student who was working from seven o’clock until nine o’clock in the morning then coming into college and then working from five o’clock until nine o’clock in the evening to stay in college, just because her grant was not coming through. “Then she is getting hassle from her course tutors because she is not keeping up to date with her assignments and work. If she fails this year she will have to pay fees next year, won’t get a grant and will be in trouble. It is a vicious circle,” said Fr Murphy.
If students do not register they cannot avail of the facilities in the college, nor can they go on work placements, and this leads to many leaving college.
Fr Murphy said he has met quite a few students who have had to wait until after Christmas before receiving a grant, and the financial strain forced many of them to drop out. While reluctant to blame the VEC (who are responsible for the processing and issuing of grants) for the backlog, he called for extra personnel to be made available to help speed up the process.
Many students end up having to pay €200 late fees and, while the registration fee is refunded if you receive a grant, the late fee is not. The Students Union of Ireland feel the students who need the grant the most are being punished because of the lack of resources in dealing with the applications.
Mr Kieran O’Malley, the Western Area Officer with the SUI, told The Mayo News that most delays in receiving grants were due to mistakes in filling out the form.
“One of the main problems is with the form, which is so complicated to fill out. The student has to ring to see why they are not getting the grant and they are told there are problems with the form. The form is then sent back to them to fill in again and it all takes time. If there was a simpler form it would speed up the process. There is a huge amount of pressure on people filling out the form and mistakes are made, which slows up the process, and students don’t get the grant in time and have to pay the €800 fee,” he explained.
The new Chief Executive of the Mayo VEC, Ms Katie Sweeney was unable to comment on the delays in the application process as she did not have all the facts and figures available to her when contacted by The Mayo News.