NEARLY 25,700 students have been ordered to pay back their college grants from the academic year of 2014-2015, according to national and regional education authorities.
So far, 11,171 have 'voluntarily' refunded their grants, totalling €12.7 million.
Handled by regional government education ministries jointly with secretarial departments of colleges and universities, the basic grant covers tuition fees – for students who achieve at least 55% in their entrance exams – and help towards all other costs including accommodation and transport, books and other materials for those who gain entrance test grades of at least 65%.
The 25,694 required to refund their grants have received these orders because they 'have not spent the money on its intended purpose', authorities say.
As grants are not paid until students are enrolled, the cost of doing so does not have to be paid back – even if the scholar drops out of the course and uses the rest of the cash to buy a car or go on holiday.
Post-16 non-university studies, or 'further education' – such as professional training or, in the case of mature students, sixth-form studies – account for just under 17,000 of the cases of enforced refunds, and all bar 10,159 have already repaid their grants, to the tune of €7.36m, according to the Public Treasury.
And the 8,700 university undergraduates and postgraduates contacted have paid back €5.37m, with 4,364 of them still due to do so.
Debts to the State must be claimed within a four-year deadline, and if a registered letter notifying the individual or company of the amount owed is returned in the post, it is still considered as a 'all reasonable attempts' to contact the debtor.
If the debt is not notified within four years, it has to be written off by law.
In practice, it is rare for the State to let this deadline pass, as seen by the attempt to collect misspent student grants originally paid out just over two years ago.