The incoming president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (SU), Lynn Ruane, has said that she would look to some form of direct action if proposed new student charges are approved tomorrow by the College Board. Speaking to Trinity News, Ruane said Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne, the current SU president, would also not be averse to holding a protest against their introduction. “If the Board doesn’t negotiate [with the SU] or have a discussion, we’d consider how we might then pull together a demonstration before its next meeting,” she said.
Raft of charges
A raft of student charge increases – projected to raise in the region of €800,000 – had been proposed by College last June as a response to the shortfall in funding from other College revenue sources. Among the proposed levies and new charges were an increase in the commencement fee, the introduction of charges for diploma and certificate award ceremonies, an increase in the application fee for prospective postgraduates and non-EU students, an increase in the price of a replacement student card, and the introduction of a charge for students sitting supplemental exams.
But following outcry from the SU and Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), and with the exception of the increase to the commencement charge which was approved at the time, the proposals were postponed to this academic year pending negotiations with representative student bodies.
McGlacken-Byrne has credited the unions’ lobbying as being a deciding factor in the negotiations that delivered several concessions earlier this month. These included the dropping of the proposal for a supplementals charge of €250 and the introduction of a means-tested exemption from the fees for degree commencement and diploma and certificate ceremonies, as well as the student card replacement charge.
The removal of the most controversial proposal – the flat charge of €250 for students to re-sit summer exams – represents the most significant achievement. It was said that the burden of the charge fell on many of those who are most at risk of dropping out and that it unfairly affected science students as they are more likely to sit supplementals than arts students.
However, the rest of the proposed charges were approved by the College Finance Committee on March 12th and are due to go before the next sitting of the Board tomorrow for final approval. These include the €75 fee for diploma or certificate ceremonies and €20 charge for replacement student cards, as well as an increase in the application fee for prospective postgraduate and non-EU students from €50 to €55. The proposed increase in the charge for duplicate parchments from €100 to €105 has also remained.
McGlacken Byrne told Trinity News that, while the concessions are “significantly less damaging” than the full range of charges and levies nearly introduced in June, the “entire affair represents a cynical [and] opportunistic agenda that deviates from this university’s student-focused mission statement.” He said that widespread opposition to the charges, represented in the passing of a student referendum on whether the SU should oppose proposed levies by 79% of the vote last month, has been “a very useful bargaining tool.”
He added, however: “I think we have made huge progress in improving the relationship with College and showing that we are worth involving in decisions.” The relationship, he said, had progressed from a stage where Provost Patrick Prendergast was “effectively refusing to meet student representatives” to established monthly meetings with him.
In a statement released the day after concessions were approved by the Finance Committee, the SU said the charges are “short-sighted” and “constitute a sorry development in our institution’s attempt to live up to the meaning of our student-focused mission statement.” The statement continued: “Significant amounts of time, effort and frustration have been wasted on this process throughout this year. Students and staff agree on far more than we disagree on; amid substantive, sectoral issues of funding, accommodation and falling academic standards, this lamentable affair constitutes energy wasted and, ultimately, opportunities for collaboration lost.” It said SU representatives would speak against the remaining measures when they are put to the Board on March 25th and that it would do all it could to “continue to oppose the principle that these measures represent.”
Ruane said that opposition to new and increased student charges was a key part of her election manifesto and that it is “something that would carry over” into her term as SU president. “I think there’s always room to undo things that have been brought in,” she said.