Provost Patrick Prendergast this afternoon defended cuts to the capitated bodies in his first public address to students since 2011. Speaking at a question and answer session organised by Trinity College Students Union (TCDSU) and the University Philosophical Society (Phil), he said that this year’s 5% cut in funding to the Central Societies Committee (CSC), the Graduate Students Union (GSU), Dublin University Central Athletic Club (DUCAC), Trinity Publications and TCDSU had to be “understood in the context of cuts happening in other areas.” Some academic departments have faced a drop of 35% in their funding, he said. “The capitated bodies’ budget was the least hit since the beginning of austerity of 2009, so in that way it has been protected,” he added.
Despite defending funding cuts to the student bodies, Prendergast said he regrets College’s lack of consultation with student representatives over proposed increases in student charges and levies. Prendergast postponed new graduation fees and increases in the cost of replacing ID cards, as well as the introduction of charges for sitting supplemental exams, after facing criticism from students in June. “Decisions had been made in haste,” he said today. “Some of my colleagues thought that consultation with the finance committee would be sufficient, but that proved not to be the case.” He said he was committed to “turning over a new leaf” with regards to student consultation, and denied an audience member’s accusation that he had been hiding from students. “Do many university heads speak to students like this?” he asked.
The provost was also questioned about College’s response to Dublin’s accommodation crisis. He said that 2,000 student residences will be built over the next five years as part of College’s new strategic plan, which is due to be unveiled at the end of October, and listed nearby Windmill Lane and Sir John Rogerson’s Quay as possible sites for new student accommodation. “It will still be some time until we find the right developer to work with,” he added.
Prendergast also defended College’s promotion of an entrepreneurial culture following reports that students may soon face compulsory entrepreneurship classes. “Entrepreneurship is not about business,” he said. “In my view, it’s about making an impact on the world. I’m not saying that everyone has to become a business person, or that everyone should be an entrepreneur, but I do think that everyone can make use of entrepreneurial skills.”
Prendergast went on to address the issue of third-level funding, referring to it as an issue that “preoccupies” his tenure. “Government funding has been cut by 35% since 2008,” he said. “Some of that has been absorbed by cuts to staff wages, but there is still a significant shortfall.” He said he “started out from a position of not wanting [student] fees,” but has since recognised that “public funds are decreasing everyone” and that students would increasingly need to shoulder the cost of third-level education.
The provost also defended College’s use of JobBridge interns, saying he believed that College, as one of the country’s largest employers, should continue to participate in the government work programme. “It’s voluntary,” he said. “It’s not as if we’re forcing people into labour against their will.” He claimed not to be aware of the use of zero-hour contracts on campus and defended individual academic schools making their own arrangements in relation to the compensation received by postgraduate students for teaching responsibilities. They “get some kind of stipend, in return for which they agree to be TAs [teaching assistants],” he said. “Most of them welcome the opportunity.”
Photo: Huda Awan