Trinity’s lateness penalty is both cruel and counterintuitive

By charging students more, Trinity risks alienating its students

College is not free and it certainly is not cheap; that is a reality all third level students in Ireland must face. Even those fortunate enough to qualify under the “Free Fees” designation are expected to pay a  €3,000 registration fee. This, when put into the context of Dublin yet again being named as one of the most expensive cities to live in in Europe, means that Trinity students face an even steeper climb when it comes to managing their finances. 

For those who are not in a position to pay the entire registration fee up front, Trinity allows students to pay in installments. While this may be welcome to some, Trinity seeks the second installment before the end of January, and if the payment is not made by the end of February, a late fee of €212 is then added to the student’s bill. Having myself been in the unfortunate position of not making this payment in time, one begins to wonder why College does not try to communicate with students who are late in paying their fees. Seeing as each student has their own respective issues to deal with, the lack of effort by the College to reach out and determine the source of the delayed payment is not the attitude of a university that puts the welfare of its students first.

“The lateness penalty felt like a slap in the face to what had already been a difficult year financially.”

During the past academic year, I gained my driver’s licence, meaning I am now able to come and go at my own pace rather than rely on lifts from my parents or accommodation from my  relatives. However, I faced an additional financial burden in now having to pay for motor tax, car insurance, petrol and the general upkeep of a twelve year old car. For someone who earns minimum wage on less than twenty hours of work a week, the cost is simply too high. In addition to this I could not take out a loan to pay the registration fee upfront, as I was still paying interest on a loan I had taken out the previous January to cover the second installment of that academic year. The lateness penalty felt like a slap in the face to what had already been a difficult year financially. 

I was not able to begin paying the second installment until April and the remainder was not paid until the end of June, meaning I did not receive my results until almost three weeks after my classmates. Given some rather difficult financial circumstances faced in my household as I am one of two children in full-time third level education, I had my own difficulties paying in-time. One parent happily offered to contribute, but the other dragged their feet and it wasn’t until I said my results would continue to be withheld until I paid my outstanding debt did they eventually assist me.It is understandable why College chooses to add a lateness fee, but it seems obvious that students’ reasons for being late are related to financial difficulty. Simply adding a lateness fee to the bill will definitely not make them pay any faster. I can vouch from experience that results being withheld are a more than apt method to ensure students are aware of the consequences of being late in paying their fees. 

“The lack of communication between College admin and the student body is no surprise: it has become etched into the experience of modern Trinity students.”

The lack of communication between College admin and the student body is no surprise: it has become etched into the experience of modern Trinity students. However, the fact that there is no attempt by the College to reach out to students directly, or indirectly via the tutor system, when it comes to not paying fees on time is something that needs to be addressed. It would likely save everyone involved a great deal of pain and uncertainty if each instance of lateness is reviewed on a case by case basis. 

The current system comes across as yet another excuse to fleece students out of  money. Ironically enough, as anyone who has spent a stint in the alumni office can attest to, Trinity does see its alumni (especially its more successful ones) as a source of income through donations long after they have graduated. College risks damaging any goodwill from students who will eventually become alumni and, potentially, be the ones on the other end of the phone being asked to provide a donation to Trinity in the future. It cannot be disputed that positive experiences shape students’ perception of their time in Trinity and it is unlikely that the lateness penalty can be defined as such. This short-sighted view of how to treat students may yet cost the College in the long run.

One could argue that a lack of higher education funding is a serious issue for universities and that the College asking for more money from students is simply a symptom of this. While this may be the case, the more cynical-minded could also argue that the college is far too eager to target students, notably the proposed €450 fee for supplementals which was scrapped after students effectively revolted. Trinity recently paraded the opening of its long-awaited business school and claimed to be a visionary of the future of higher education in Ireland, yet its nonchalant attitude to handling cases of late payment, such as mine, is far from visionary. If anything, it points to an archaic way of thinking within a university administration system that simply doesn’t care what its students go through.

The lateness fee, in a way, has the same issues the proposed supplemental fee had: it effectively profits from student misfortune and misery. By adding the lateness fee, Trinity will earn more money per student as all of the student’s fees must be paid on top of this financial penalty. The best method is to either delay the lateness fee until the end of the academic term or scrap it entirely and perhaps reserve it for those who are consistently late in making payments. 

Cian Mac Lochlainn

Cian Mac Lochlainn is an Economics and Politics student, and a Contributing Writer for Trinity News.