The Students Against Fees (SAF) group hosted a relaunch meeting tonight in the Arts Building. The meeting of over 20 students discussed how to progress the movement forward, as well as various campaign strategies.
The group decided on holding a larger public meeting during Week Four of term, as well as holding more regular meetings throughout the year. A key point that was emphasised was increased promotion, organisation and recruitment.
It was agreed that the scope for the group would be expanded to address issues outside of student fees. The group noted that they plan to expand the campaign to rallying for more affordable housing, with Oisín Vince Coulter saying: “Dozens of graduate students [are] living in hostels with College and private companies making deals” for high cost accommodation, including the €1,000-a-month Kavanagh Court housing promoted by Trinity itself.
The core group of students who launched the campaign focused on its successes in its first year, with Rory O’Neill saying “I think the group needs a revitalisation. It came out of nothing nearly two years ago”. O’Neill also commented that “there wasn’t the energy” during the last academic year.
Vince Coulter expressed his disappointment with the most recent March for Education on Wednesday, which saw a turnout of 5,000, down from 12,000 the previous year. Coulter said: “I don’t think the current situations vis-à–vis the students’ union and USI [Union of Students in Ireland] is great…the students’ union decided ‘the March for Repeal is five days before, we’re going to focus all our efforts on this.’”
Some participants of the meeting touched on previous experience campaigning, with Egan referring to the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), while Jessie Dolliver touched on her Fossil Free TCD experience, where she noted that “it’s easy to get into an echo chamber…it’s easy to forget how many people have different opinions”.
Speaking of the government’s action on college fees, Vince Coulter said: “Leo and the current government are not going near student loans.” Vince Coulter also noted that “USI and the students’ union no longer see this as a pressing issue”.
Seán Egan, a leading member of Trinity People before Profit (PBP) noted that “creative action within a confined space like this can have a big impact”. Egan continued, saying lobbying tactics used by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) and USI are “absolutely discredited” due to a “lacklustre organising effort” by TCDSU.
TCDSU are mandated to campaign for free third-level education following a motion brought forward by SAF, and seconded by then President Kieran McNulty, that was passed at a SU Council in January of this year.
SAF was established in November 2015, when the SU Council rejected a motion by then TCDSU President Lynn Ruane that opposed the imposition of student loans and fee increases.
The Cassells Report, prepared over two years by the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education, was published in July 2016. The aim of the report was to find a solution for the funding crisis to third-level institutions. The report proposed three solutions: raise State funding of all third-level institutions from 64% to roughly 80%, while abolishing student fees entirely; retain the current €3,000 fee with a lesser rise in state contribution (64% to 72%); impose an income-contingent loan scheme while reducing the state’s overall contribution to between 55% and 60%.
The government budget for 2018 will be announced this Tuesday, with opposition parties releasing their proposed budgets this week.
Additional reporting by Seana Davis.