By Daniel Brennan
People from lower-income backgrounds are being priced out of university more and more – and greedy institutions like NUI Galway are the reason why.
It may feel like a lifetime ago now but think back to July, when it was revealed that NUI Galway would not be waiving their €295 repeat exam fees. many other third level institutions across Ireland had either significantly lowered or completely scrapped repeat exam fees as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students at NUI Galway were told directly, by the bursar of the college, that the €295 charge was a “quite modest” fee. At the best of times, it would be almost too ridiculous to print that quote as a piece of satire mocking the attitudes of universities towards their students, never mind during a global pandemic.
What makes that “quite modest” statement even more disgusting is the actual cost of running the exams themselves – as The College Tribune found out under a Freedom of Information request earlier this year, the cost of holding a repeat exam in NUI Galway was €10.98 per student.
That cost included the cost of hiring venues for the exams, the cost of paying staff to invigilate exams as well as the cost of exam materials.
It was already ridiculous that students had to pay €295 for an in- person repeat exam, never mind that, as stated previously, in the middle of a global pandemic, they still dared to charge the same fees for online exams.
Repeat fees are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the multitude of ways that NUI Galway tries to rip its students off. This year especially, it has become clear to me that the main goal of the university’s management isn’t to provide the best quality education they possibly can, or indeed to provide the best campus environment for students to thrive in. All they care about is that your fees are paid in full and on time, and that their pockets are filled to the brim with your money.
I am entering my fourth and final year as an undergraduate Arts with Journalism student, and in every single one of my four years, myself and many others have experienced the same issues over and over again with the NUI Galway registration website when trying to select modules for the year ahead.
The fact that this has been a repeated issue even though once Britain leaves the European Union in a few months, we will have the highest university fees in the EU, is quite frankly ridiculous. The registration website looks like it has been pulled straight out of 1999, when the rest of NUI Galway’s lovely webpages that any prospective students would see are all up-to-date and modern.
It took me 45 minutes to select modules for two subjects, because the servers kept crashing so often – and I was one of the lucky ones in that regard.
Then comes the issue of student accommodation, where NUI Galway is seemingly in the back pockets of the student accommodation providers and landlords of Galway city. Students were explicitly told for months in emails and in other communications to secure accommodation in Galway for the upcoming academic year, despite not knowing what their prospective timetables might look like.
Students were only given “indicative schedules” on the 31st of August, where many students who had booked accommodation in Galway for the upcoming year and had already paid a deposit and perhaps even a month or two of rent, were then informed that they would only have a few hours of in-person lectures and tutorials a week, after NUI Galway had previously told them that 30% of their learning time would be on-campus in the first semester.
Why would they delay releasing this information for so long when they had almost six months from the university’s closing in mid-March to figure out a plan for students that could inform them whether or not paying for accommodation was at all necessary?
Or if what we were told was true and the “indicative schedules” were still being put together the day of their release, why did they wait so long to put the schedules together?
In my opinion, it was to scare students into getting student accommodation, and at the very least pay a deposit and a month or two’s worth of rent to their respective landlords or accommodation agencies, to squeeze all the money they could out of students to fill the coffers of the private rental sector as a favour.
What’s sad is that NUI Galway aren’t the only university that try to take all that they can from their students, although they are among the worst. Young people across Ireland are having to consider whether getting an education is worth the outrageous fees and exploitative accommodation charges.
Last year, I had to take a placement that was near my home in Donegal, as I would have had to drop out otherwise if I had to pay for accommodation again.
This year, with my brother also starting university, if it wasn’t for the uncertainty of Covid-19 which allowed me to stay at home, I had to face the choice of either deferring for a year, trying to get a loan and sinking myself into debt or dropping out altogether because I simply could not afford to pay for accommodation, despite having a part time job and a parent that works.
I know I’m one of the lucky ones too, and there are many out there far worse off than me, who have either lost their jobs or have been unable to get a job because of the pandemic, and whose parents may be in the same situation. If I can barely afford to go to university and get an education, I can only empathise with the many others who have already been priced out altogether by a system designed by and for the richest and most well off in our societies.