Trinity’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) voted to explore their options for industrial action at tonight’s GSU Council. This follows the decision by College to increase postgraduate and non-EU undergraduate fees by 5% in 2018/19 for both new and continuing students.
The motion to go on strike arose out of a discussion on the fee increase. It proposed that “the GSU and its members explore industrial action if the university continues with the 5% increase in fees”. Industrial action was defined as including a strike and non-payment of fees. The motion passed by the required two thirds of Council.
Speaking in favour of the motion, postgraduate student Natalie Glenn said: “The college cannot run without us and we need to show them.” Other students in favour of the motion to move towards industrial action repeatedly stressed that college “is not a business”.
Speaking at the Council tonight, GSU President Shane Collins said: “Where does the line stop? The incremental impact on students who started off in good faith, invested in this university…This is an absolute disgrace. College says we don’t have an option, we do have an option – the option is to tell the government that this is not an issue that is not to put on the backs of students. Postgrad students are not going to be the cash cows for this issue any longer.”
Collins continued: “A lot of them [students] have families, they have the shame of having to go home and say I can’t afford presents this year. He said that he feared many postgraduates would “not be here next year” in reference to the fees increase. He further noted that despite the year on year increase in postgraduate fees, the Student Hardship Fund available to support postgraduate students has declined by 20% in the last number of years. The GSU have “internally” requested that multi-year students not be subject to fee increases and that fee increases for all postgraduate students be capped.
Collins appealed to postgraduates to oppose the fee increase, warning that “if we let this go now, we’re destined for years of this”. Collins had previously told Trinity News that “nothing was off the cards” in terms of resisting the fees increase. He also repeated his belief that from a “financial perspective”, it is “fiscally irresponsible” for College to increase postgraduate fees and put students at risk of being unable to complete their degrees.
The 5% increase is higher than the 3% rise implemented in the previous two years. The decision was made at a meeting of College’s Finance Committee on September 22. The increase will take effect from the beginning of the 2018/19 academic year and affect both new and continuing students.
According to a recent postgraduate survey conducted by the GSU, 53% of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) funded postgraduate students indicated that they were unsure about their ability to survive during their program. 44% of respondents said that any increase in their fees would threaten their ability to complete their programmes, while 24% said that as little as a 1% increase would have the same effect. For non-funded AHSS postgraduate students, as many as 66% said that they were unsure about their ability to survive during their programme. 50% of funded Engineering and Mechanical Science (EMS) postgraduate students and 67% of non-funded EMS students said that they were concerned about their ability to survive during their programme.
TCDSU President Kevin Keane also condemned the increase in fees for non-EU undergraduate students. Speaking to Trinity News this evening, Keane said that although the “headline” increase from the Finance Committee had been that pertaining to postgraduates, the “human cost to non-EU undergraduates is huge”. Keane said TCDSU intended to provide “very significant” support to the GSU and that a “united front” was needed. He did say, however, that no campaign plan had been formed yet. The issue was not raised at any point during TCDSU’s first Council earlier this week.
A second motion also passed at tonight’s Council stating: “That the GSU work with other organisations ([including] IRC, Disability Service, TAP, SFI, SUSI, IFUT, TCDSU, HEA, Department of Education, politicians) to petition the aforementioned bodies to be aware of the consequences that these increases will have on education in Ireland i.e. student number, accessibility etc. and to ask if they are carrying out any action to mitigate these consequences.” It also passed by the necessary two thirds majority.
Additional reporting by Niamh Lynch.