Three sabbatical officers from Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) met this morning with the Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, to discuss a number of Third Level Education issues. The meeting took place at the Department of Education at 11am and lasted till 12.30pm and was attended by TCDSU’s President Laura Beston, Education Officer Niamh McCay and Welfare Officer Aisling Leen.
Details of the meeting were released to Trinity news by TCDSU. The Minister and the department are yet to comment on the meeting or officially respond to any of the demands made by the union.
In an email statement TCDSU said: “This day marks an important shift for TCDSU in that it marks the beginning of a dialogue with the government to bring the local issues that are affecting our students to a national level.”
One of the first issues on the agenda were SUSI grants, with the sabbatical officers challenging the Minister on her recent controversial comments that students should use the grant to cover the rising cost of student accommodation.
The TCDSU officers urged the Minister to reinstate the SUSI grant to pre-2011 levels, pointing out that the number of students receiving the grant has fallen from over 80,600 in 2015 to 76,600 in 2018, despite student numbers having risen during this time. The union officers urged an investment of €26m from the government into the scheme.
Student concern over the growing accommodation crisis was also expressed at the meeting. The union officers raised the issue of colleges sidestepping the 4% cap on rent increases by passing raises in accomodation rent before the law comes into effect. Additionally, the union has asked the government to fund the building of publicly-owned purpose built student accommodation, pointing to the fact that only 19% of developments are currently under public ownership and 10 year lease agreements are leading to purpose built student accommodation being converted into non-student accommodation leading to a shortfall against rising demand.
The union’s demands on accommodation amount to an increase in funding of €2.2 billion by 2024 or €425m annually.
TCDSU have also said that they proposed cutting the student contribution, calculating that a government investment of €38m would reduce the student contribution by €500 per student.
The union further asked the Minister to stand behind Northern Irish students, citing the fall in Northern Irish applications to Trinity, blamed on the impact of Brexit. Education Officer Niamh McCay asked the government for a commitment to adjust the number of CAO points awarded for A-Level qualifications.
Within the student welfare brief, Aisling Leen touted Trinity’s consent policy as a model for other colleges to follow. Leen pointed to the union’s funding of a new position in College: “Graduate Intern for Sexual Consent”, stating that every large Higher Education Institute in the country should look to create a similar position.
Leen further challenged the Minister on the government’s mental health policy, expressing disappointment that Pleasetalk.org has been discontinued without being replaced with a new Health Service Executive (HSE) campaign. The union officers emphasised that student finance and accommodation were causing a great deal of stress among students, often leading to mental health problems.
TCDSU President Laura Beston raised the issue of racism on campuses stating that the lack of a government framework for universities to tackle racism was putting increased pressure on students’ unions to ensure safety procedures are in place. Beston warned that this issue is of particular concern given that Trinity is currently making provisions for students who are refugees as well as an increased number of international students and a surge in the presence of far-right nationalism.
Beston also raised the climate crisis, stating that the government’s procurement policy is restricting colleges from using disposable takeout containers and coffee cups.
During the meeting, the union officers argued that the cost of public transport, even with the use of a student leap card is too high. The student leap card currently saves students up to 66% across all public transport.
In an email statement to Trinity News Laura Beston said: “It is important that meetings like this happen on a regular basis, as elected student representatives we must do all we can to ensure our student’s voices are heard at the highest possible level, not just within the college but nationally.”
“Through meeting Minister Mitchell O’Connor, we sincerely hope that student concerns, particularly those of the students in Trinity will be acknowledged in the upcoming budget and further decisions made throughout the year.”
“It is evident through recent comments that education is an issue that many in government are either dismissive of or ignorant towards. We, the Student’s Union of Trinity feel incredibly passionately about equal access to education and unless our voices, and the concerns of our students are listened to, education, or at least level eights will become a distant reality”
TCDSU Education Officer Niamh McCay said: “It was important for us to sit down and talk firsthand with the Minister about the issues faced by our students, both in Trinity and nationally. We covered many bases, heavily discussing the issues surrounding the SUSI grant and the need for investment, as well as the student contribution fee, and the fact that it needs to be reduced. We are positive that the Minister left today more aware of the issues students are facing on the ground, and that the wheels are set in motion for change.”