Education committee unearths hidden gems of information

This month saw the Provost, alongside his fellow university heads, sit before the Oireachtas Education Committee, as reported on page one of this issue. The information extracted at this meeting was quite considerable: the admission by Hugh Brady, for example, that the use of the student charge amounted to fees by another name, or, perhaps of more interest, that the charge has been applied to areas that the casual student would never have thought could possibly be considered a student service. The information that the committee received was, first and foremost, news to them. In addition, there were allegations from the seven students’ unions that the information presented to the committee was different to that presented to the student body. In the end, the power of the committee on Education and Science unearthed some truths about the allocation of funding, but the process could be best described as murky. It was more akin to sifting through mud for nuggets of gold than the quick, easy, and simple access to information which many of us assume is the case with public bodies. The university now faces a potentially difficult challenge in justifying its categorisation of expenses to a government body. As was suggested by members of the committee, less effort should have been expended on balancing the books, and a more honest statement of financial difficulty should have been made. Only by recognising that the universities cannot afford to run a library, or repair roads or run an animal resources unit can the government and its agencies begin to even consider increasing financial support. This column has written before on the culture of secrecy within Trinity, though these latest developments demonstrate that it is a trait common to most, if not all, institutions of higher education in the country. While we do not wish to suggest any kind of illegal action on the part of this or any other institution, the need for transparency in all our public bodies is crystal clear. A well-run, efficiently managed institution may still hold the burden of a large deficit; conversely, an appalling shell of a university, which can barely afford to run its basic facilities, might conceivably manage to balance its figures by not holding any large capital debt. It should not require the intervention of elected officials and the sustained efforts of student groups form all over the country to tell one from the other. Less complexity is better– information should be easy to access, simple enough for the common man to understand, and adhere to a standard format.

Election promises and a pinch of salt

For the last number of years, this paper has made the same plea to the student population when the time comes to elect the sabbatical officers of next year’s Students’ Union: beware of election promises, which are all too easily forgotten. In an institution such as ours where everyday undergraduate stays only four years, the turnover between one year and the next is enormous. Of those who remain, many are apathetic in regard to student politics, and those who are enthusiastic about the topic are all too often friends, or closely associated with, the elected officers. Students’ Union sabbatical officers are paid a salary for their time. Staying within the comfortable confines of a university, and being paid for the privilege, is an attractive proposition to many, and doubtless we will see ludicrous claims from some corners as to what will be achieved should one person or another be elected. To older students, this will be a familiar experience; but to the younger population, take with a pinch of salt the promises of laser tag in front square and 24 hour library services (both of which were promised by past candidates, and which they had zero power to enact). This paper has, over the last few years, made a habit of re-examining the election promises of elected officers approximately half-way through their term of office: you can find the relevant piece on this year in our election special of this issue. Let the current candidates be aware, then, that there is a need to remember promises made once election day is long gone, and let us hope that the student body uses common sense in determining which goals are achievable, and which are nothing more than an elaborate wish which will never come true.