In 1997, tuition fees were abolished for first-time undergraduates who are EU nationals and have been ordinarily resident in an EU country for at least three of the five years preceding the start of their course and who are attending an approved full-time course lasting at least two years. The undergraduate registration fee is also waived for EU nationals who have been resident in Ireland for at least a year prior to the start of their course. Capitation fees, on the other hand, must be paid by all students.
Non-EU students must normally pay an ‘economic fee’ in addition to tuition fees; in some cases they must ‘simply’ pay two-and-a-half or three times the standard tuition fee. There’s a Support Scheme for students from developing countries, whereby a small number of students (e.g. ten per course per university) are allowed to pay the standard EU fee; otherwise non-EU students should apply to their own education departments regarding grants and support.
Apart from these fees, of course, there’s the cost of living while a student to be taken into account. Again there are grants available (known as maintenance grants) but, as they’re means tested, only around a third of students receive them.
Applications for maintenance grants must be made to your local county council from May or June onwards for courses starting in September. There are also maintenance grants for trainees on one, two and three-year courses, details of which are available from the Vocational Education Committees.
The majority of students who don’t qualify for a maintenance grant, like students everywhere, are reduced to begging, borrowing and … working to get by – although many colleges expressly forbid students to take part-time work! – unless they’re fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to pay their expenses. Many students obtain a loan to bridge the gap between their or their parents’ contribution and their living expenses. Most banks offer ‘student accounts’ with generous overdraft facilities and favourable interest rates , but some limit loans to students of the major universities (i.e. TCD and the NUI).
Tax relief at the standard rate on tuition fees paid is available to part-time undergraduates on approved courses at publicly funded colleges lasting at least two years, students on approved courses at private colleges, full-time students on approved courses in other EU countries, and postgraduate students on courses in Ireland and other EU countries. You must present to the Revenue Commissioners a ‘ statement of fees’ from the Fees Office of your university or college.
If the financial situation for Irish students isn’t encouraging, it’s much worse for non-EU nationals, who don’t qualify for maintenance fees and must also pay tuition fees. These are usually two-and-a-half or three times the fees that apply to EU students who don’t qualify for free tuition (e.g. second time students). The only good news for non-EU students is that you can open a student account if you can provide evidence of solvency during the last six months!
One of the rewards for suffering years of financial deprivation as a student is of course that, when you eventually start work, you can earn a higher salary than you would without a degree – at least in theory.
Further information on eligibility for grants is included in a booklet entitled Financial Support for Further and Higher Education, available from the Department of Education and Science (Tel. 01-873 4700). Useful information on budgeting for student life can be found on www.eirestudent.com.