‘Fees exist’: student charge spent on library and animal research

The heads of all seven Irish universities were called in front of the Oireachtas joint Committee on Education and Science to answer questions on how the student services charge, which is part of the annual registration fee, is being spent.
Among many items discussed was Trinity’s use of the broad definition of what “student service” means to justify the use of the student services charge to fund areas which have not been historically considered part of the charge, including the library and animal testing resources.
In a letter to members of the committee in advance of the meeting, the Presidents of all seven Students’ Unions expressed shock at the submissions of the university heads to the committee, specifically in relation to how the student charge was broken down. “It constitutes nothing other than a ruse designed to deflect the committee’s attention from the true nature of this charge,” they said. “The information reflected here is vastly different from that that has been previously presented to us in our respective institution’s financial committees. We believe this amounts to subterfuge.” The university heads denied any alteration of figures outright.
Dr Hegarty, Provost of Trinity, was quizzed on the imminent re-classification of library services from a  core function of the university to a “student service” with effect from next year, which would allow money from the student charge to be diverted there. In addition, documents revealed that a certain portion of the charge– €898,000– was already  going to the “bio resources unit.”
Dr Hegarty defended this decision, saying that “it depends upon what you classify as a student service,” and that, in his opinion, the library was undoubtedly a student service. Under questioning, the university heads eventually acknowledged that the library would have to considered a core function of a university, but argued that it could simultaneously be considered a student service, and so draw funding from the charge.
UCC President Dr Michael Murphy even went so far as to suggest that filling in potholes caused by the damaging effect of freezing conditions could be considered a student service, as it might prevent students injuring themselves by tripping and falling.
The Universities Act, which governs the relationship between the universities and the State, contains a provision within article 40 to allow the universities to charge any fees they wish–something which was pointed out  by the university heads at the outset of the meeting. Technically, the Higher Education Authority acts only to advise the universities on what fees they should charge; the universities ordinarily accept this advice as a matter of course, but are not required to do so.
The option exists for the government to alter the Universities Act to eliminate such provisions– something which members of the committee mentioned as a possible option for future discussion.
Many of the committee members argued that the diversion on funds in this manner was essentially student fees through another method. Under intensive questioning, Dr Hugh Brady, President of UCD, admitted that “at the moment, fees exist in Ireland,” something which brought hushed whispers of excitement from the representatives of the Students’ Unions and the Union of Students in Ireland present in the public area, all of whom have contested this idea for some time.
During the course of the committee meeting, the Provost also claimed that students had representation on every decision-making body in college. In particular, Dr Hegarty claimed that students sat on the body responsible for the re-classification of the library as a student service. Students’ Union President Conan Ó’Broin refutes this as simply untrue.
The members of the committee decided to request the Minister for Education, Batt O’Keefe TD, to attend a meeting as soon as possible so that they could express their concerns.