Students at Trinity College and other universities throughout the country face a 67% hike in their annual ‘student services’ registration fee, following Brian Lenihan’s publication of the State Budget earlier this month. The fee, which stood at €900 for this academic year, will increase to €1500 for the academic year 2009/2010. Trinity College Student Union, the Union of Students in Ireland and opposition government parties have all heavily criticised as “unjustified” and “cynical”.
Between 2002 and 2007 the increase in the fee largely reflected the national rate of inflation. However, a 9% increase in 2007 from €825 to €900, and the imminent 67% hike introduced by the Budget has completely bucked this trend. By next year the student services charge will therefore have increased by 124% since 2002.
The president of the Union of Students in Ireland, Shane Kelly, commented: “Last week’s Budget which saw third level registration fees being increased by 67% to €1,500 represents a crude and cynical attempt by Minister O’ Keefe to raise revenue for the State coffers at the expense of students and their families.”
Student Union President Cathal Reilly told Trinity News “the increase was in no way justified. At a time where the economic outlook is bleak, the government must invest in the economy’s future by means of, among other things, education.” At last Wednesday’s student fees protest, Labour education spokesman Ruairi Quinn said the Government had “buckled” on the issues of medical cards and income levies following the budget. He anticipated “they would do so again” on the issue of education if they were pressured. However, when Trinity News asked Mr. Quinn if there was any real prospect of the increase in the registration fee being repealed by the government, he replied “none whatsoever”. He added that government policy on the matter was aimless – “The government is in a deep financial crisis, and as a result they’re hitting out at anyone and everyone”, he said.
The increase in the registration fee comes in the wake of recent statements made by Minister O’Keefe that the government is considering reintroducing college tuition fees – a matter which has been the subject of much protest and controversy. Many student bodies and media outlets have suggested that the increase in registration fees introduced in the Budget is an attempt by the government to move towards the eventual reintroduction of tuition fees. Cathal Reilly told Trinity News: “This is a step by the government towards trying to reintroduce fees. What they are doing is upping the registration fee and cutting the block grant to Universities by the same (or a very similar) amount per student.” However, Head of Communications at the Higher Education Authority Malcolm Byrne refuted this claim – “our understanding is that the additional funding will be to the institution concerned. In other words, if a TCD student pays €1500 next year, the money will go to TCD.”
Mr. Reilly pointed out that the student body must be vigilant in ensuring that the student services fee is used for its stated purpose. “Under the Education Authority Report 1995 these monies were designated to paying for registration, examinations and student services. What we must look out for is if the minister tries to change that, so that these monies could be used anywhere. Then this would be the reintroduction of fees.”
Mr. Reilly denied that the issue of the increased registration fee was lost at last Wednesday’s protest to the central matter – the reintroduction of tuition fees. “The protest was against fees in any guise. The registration fee is a “fee” and we were also protesting against its increase (as was heard in the speeches made that day).”
This year, the total cost for a first time undergraduate signing to a course at Trinity was €983, the additional €83 comprising of the compulsory €75 Sports Centre Levy and an €8 USI levy. This total charge is low when compared alongside other universities in Ireland, despite last year’s debate over the merits of a compulsory Sports Centre Levy.
Students at UCD paid €150 for a “student centre levy” on top of the standard €900 this year. A €145 “capitation fee” is charged by UCC, and NUI Galway charges an additional €222 for “student levies”.