UCD hiring debt collectors to chase outstanding fees
March 16 2014
By: Sam Griffin
THE country's biggest university is using a debt collection agency to recoup outstanding fees that could amount to nearly €1m, the Sunday Independent has learnt.
University College Dublin (UCD) is one of just three Irish colleges using a third party to chase down student fees after it emerged last year as many as five universities had employed, or advertised for, the services of a debt collection agency.
Along with UCD, Dublin City University and NUI Galway also confirmed they were using outside agencies to recoup monies owed. NUI Maynooth said they no longer used debt collectors and had not done so for the past 12 months. It is also understood the University of Limerick is no longer employing such an agency.
A spokesman for UCD told the Sunday Independent that approximately one out of every 167 of the college's 38,000 graduates "who have completed their programmed over the past five years has not yet been awarded their degree due to outstanding monies".
Annual contribution fees for third-level students have risen from a 2011/2012 level of €2,000 to €3,000 by 2015. However, the problem in UCD is understood to relate particularly to students who enrolled as post-graduates where the average annual fee is around €5,000, though some can be as high as €20,000.
Based on these figures, if even two-thirds of the college's bad debts were post-graduate students who didn't contribute anything towards their fees, the total fee sought by the unnamed debt collection agency would be in excess of €900,000. UCD said it could not confirm how much money it was trying to claw back from students.
However, it did not deny earlier reports that the publicly awarded contract for the debt collection service was around €200,000.
The spokesman said the university had recently completed a tender process for the services of a collection agency and said the decision would mean money would be recouped that would otherwise have been lost.
"The need for outsourcing is the result of a lack of internal resources to conduct this service. Therefore, it is expected that a percentage of outstanding monies will be recouped as a result of this process that might otherwise be lost," he told the Sunday Independent.
DCU, who employ Legal and Credit Management Services Ltd to collect fees, said 250 former students owed money to the college and added that the use of a third party had been considered successful by the university thus far.
"The amount owed by current students varies enormously throughout the year as each or the two due dates for fee payments arise. It is only at the end of an academic year that the remaining debt is referred to a third-party agency when the internal processes are exhausted," a spokesperson said.
NUIG said it had completed the tendering process and was proceeding with a pilot programme to ascertain the feasibility of working with a debt collector. Trinity College, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) said they had never used debt collection agencies and had no plans to such a service.