Candidates spoke positively about the possibility of direct action with regards to postgraduate fees at the second Graduate Students Union (GSU) tonight. The three candidates spoke on the 5% increase in postgraduate fees, alongside the desire for College to acknowledge postgraduates as workers, as well as issues around engagement with the Union.
The vice-presidential position is contested by two candidates, Jamie Farrell, a student in LLM Law and Dr Gogoal Falia, a Masters Student in Business Administration. Former Trinity News Editor, Oisín Vince Coulter, studying a Masters in Interactive Digital Media, is the sole candidate for the President position.
The vice-presidential candidates spoke first, outlining their vision for their term. Farrell highlighted the comfort and support the GSU has provided him, saying “when I first came to Trinity I wasn’t totally comfortable on campus”. Establishing a strong community is the first step to building a strong Union, he believes. He emphasised his experience and interest in education equality issues. He also reiterated his goals to reach out further to students through his outreach week.
Farrell wants to ensure that postgraduates “won’t be priced out of a degree”. He also said that he wants College to recognise postgraduate workers as workers, aligning his views with those of the sole Presidential candidate Oisín Vince Coulter.
“I am here with a mission,” opened Dr Gogoal Falia. He stated that he wanted “a more personal approach” to the GSU. We would be “naive” to believe that there is no sexual harassment in Trinity, he said, and wants to “work on that”. He wants to refocus issues on funding and tackle the Department of Education, he said, or else focus on Trinity’s approach to the issue.
“The best way to connect people with is with events,” Falia said, a point he reiterated throughout the hustings tonight. He also emphasised his dedication towards developing a connection with postgraduates, saying: “If it’s between a meeting and a student, I will always pick the student.”
When asked about their thoughts on strike action, both students came out strongly in support of possible strike action. “Let’s do it!” said Falia, in response to the question. “We have been silent for too long,” he said, while Farrell stated: “I am all for strike action. I support any forms of strike action.”
This proved an apt opening for sole Presidential candidate Oisín Vince Coulter to outline his plans for the year ahead. He reiterated his desire for Trinity to recognise postgraduates as workers, a major promise of his campaign.
“I don’t want to jump straight to the radical thing,” he said regarding the GSU’s opposition to an increase in postgraduate fees, but stated that if Trinity “wastes” their time on the issue, the GSU must take a stand. “In terms of action, I think everything is on the table,” he said.“Think it’s very important we have someone with the vision I have for this role,” said Vince Coulter.
Following a question from an audience member on possible consequences for individuals following direct action against high fees, Vince Coulter stated: “If people are getting fired, then we don’t come off strike until they are reinstated.” However, the GSU would not put anyone in a situation in which they were not comfortable, he said, and would encourage them to show solidarity by other means.
The conversation then turned to the accomodation difficulties faced by postgraduate students, international students particularly, when they arrive at Trinity. College treats its accomodation as a fundraiser, Vince Coulter believes, and should instead be setting aside a certain amount for affordable accommodation. He emphasised that Trinity owns a lot of property, “more than you think,” and believes that Trinity has a responsibility to build more housing for its students. He wants to cooperate with Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU)’s accommodation service more and to help students plan further in advance for their arrival.
Vince Coulter spoke about his experience of Trinity – “I’ve been around a long time” – and spoke about his time with Trinity News reporting on the issues Trinity students face. He touched on his activism experience, speaking about organising the Students Against Fees group and about his support for the current Aramark Off Our Campus campaign, boycotting Westland Eats. He wants apply his experience now with the GSU, he said.
The topic of collaborating with national bodies was raised. Vince Coulter expressed his openness to working with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), however, he has criticised the USI’s record on postgraduate fees in the past and described their efforts as “not good”. He believes that the issues facing postgraduate students are national issues, referencing the crisis in third level funding, and would explore other options, such as affiliating with Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) and other unions for a national voice.
Recognising the cliche of his statement, Vince Coulter finished with a quote from Jim Larkin: “The Great appear Great because we are on our knees. Let us rise”.