UCD working group said €180 re-sit fees for students who failed exams was “untenable” and seen as a “penalty”

Ireland’s largest university said its sky-high fees for exam resits were the highest in the country and put students under “great financial stress” when they failed.

UCD announced last year that it was eliminating the €180 fee that it charged students who wanted to reattempt an exam they had failed.

In an internal analysis, the college looked at resit fees across the third level sector in Ireland, concluding that theirs were the highest and examining whether they should be cut, or abolished altogether.

It said the old €180 fee “maintains the perception that the university is applying a resit fee as a penalty as opposed to a recognition of the additional cost of resit administration”.

The report, carried out by an internal working group, said students believed the fee was “arbitrary” and “too large to be nominal” although there was a cost to the university in providing resits both in administration and academic work.

The possibility of reducing the fee to just €50 was examined saying this would bring UCD below the national average fee while recognising the “additional costs” for the college in running additional exams.

It said this would reduce college income from resits by 72% but would still retain the “financial burden” for failing a module.

The UCD analysis also said there was an inherent unfairness in the fact that some of its courses allowed students to take part in “in-module remediation” where if they failed a subject, they could subsequently pass without having to go through a formal repeat.

The university ultimately agreed with the analysis that scrapping the charge would reduce the financial burden on students “at a time of academic stress”.

The working group’s report said this would remove the perception that the fees were a “penalty,” and that UCD would be able to manage without the lost revenue from fees.

The internal analysis also looked at whether the resit fees were hitting poorer students harder, by looking at whether there was any link between exam results and the provision of grants under the SUSI system.

“One potential concern with repeat and resit fees is whether they disproportionately affect students who can least afford to pay them,” said the document.

However, they said this wasn’t apparent from their analysis and students dealing with money struggles were no more likely to resit an exam than those with no obvious financial strains.

The analysis said: “Even though students receiving needs-based assistance potentially face more obstacles in third-level education due to lower household incomes and other challenging family environments, these students appear to be as successful as their peers in progressing to their second year at UCD.”

The only obvious trend the university could find among students who were resitting exams was that they tended to have scored lower points in their Leaving Cert.

In recommendations, the analysis said any final decision would be up to management but that its conclusion was that the resit fee should be lowered or dropped especially during a “cost of living crisis”.

“The working group does not believe that the current resit fee of €180 is a tenable position for the university,” said the report.

“It is the highest charge in the sector, was projected to reduce on an annual basis but has not, and [it] is perceived to be an unfair financial penalty at a time when it is widely recognised that students can least afford such costs.”