Trinity have said that they are reviewing the possibility of offering refunds to students who have paid for college owned accommodation but are not now using that accommodation due to classes being moved online.
Speaking to Trinity News, a College spokesperson said: “Trinity is currently reviewing its policies in relation to such refunds and more information will be available shortly.”
Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris last week told an Oireachtas committee “my very clear message to that secor is I expect refunds to be issued” in cases where students are not using the accommodation that they paid for.
Harris was responding to a question from the Sinn Fein TD and party spokesperson for further and higher education Rose Conway-Walsh, who stated that “there are thousands of students and parents who have paid for very substantial amounts of money for accommodation that they will now not use”. Conway-Walsh asked the minister what he would do “to ensure those parents and students get their money back”.
Harris added that universities “don’t need to be lectured to” regarding this issue, citing examples of colleges who have already committed to offering refunds for unused campus accommodation.
With regards to private accommodation, Harris asked providers to “show a bit of decency”, adding that he would continue to work with the minister for housing on avenues for securing refunds for students. He also stated that he was engaging with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) on the issue “on a regular basis”.
The USI have repeatedly called for refunds as well as more flexible leases for students this year.
USI President Lorna Fitxpatrick has said that “those who have agreed contracts and leases must be supported to delay the start dates of those leases or to be refunded for rooms that are no longer needed”.
“Institutions and accommodation providers must provide flexible provisions for students. It is not good enough to require students to enter standard agreements – this is not a standard year,” she noted.
One student who has paid for a room in Trinity accommodation this year, but is not currently using it told Trinity News that the main problem for him was the uncertainty.
The student explained: “I do not know when I will be back for in-person classes, after reading week, next term or next year.”
The student stated that he “does not know when [he] can occupy” the accommodation because he doesn’t know when in-person tuition will resume.
“I have been given a provisional date, but the virus does not respect the provisional dates of university administrators.”
“While there is still the possibility that in-person tuition may resume this year. I feel unable to seek a refund for my accommodation, because I do not know if I am going to have a need for it later in the year,” he explained.
Trinity’s website currently states that refunds will be provided if students are instructed to move out of their accommodation due to an increase in restrictions, as happened at the end of the last academic year.
The student emphasised that residents feel need clarity on this issue: “Though I understand that it is a difficult time financially for universities and that rental accommodation is a vital source of income for them, a little certainty would go a long way in dealing with the worries raised over accommodation.”
The University of Limerick (UL) and National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway) have both said that students who choose not to take up their rooms on campus this year will receive refunds.
Last year Trinity offered a partial refund to students who, barring a few exceptional circumstances, were ordered to vacate their rooms as Ireland entered into lockdown.