Decapitated Bodies

D. Joyce Ahearne

InDepth Editor

In 14th November 2013, Professor Moray McGowan, Senior Dean and Chair of the Capitations Committee, was informed that the Capitated bodies, the organisations primarily responsible for student services, were to have their budgets cut by 5% for the year 2013/2014 and another 5% for the year 2014/2015. This was the first that the Capitations Committee had heard about such cuts, two months into the year and having already budgeted for 2013/2014.

The Capitated bodies are the Students Union, the Graduates Students Union, Dublin University Central Athletics Club (DUCAC), the Central Societies Committee (CSC) and Trinity Publications. The cuts will mean a reduction of €17,690 for DUCAC, €17,916 for the CSC, €16,229 for the SU, €2,998 for the GSU and €2,423 for Trinity Publications.Though it was initially reported that the decision was made by Board, the body charged with the general governance of College, on 26th June 2013, in fact the decision was made months earlier. Trinity News has learned that at a meeting on 9th January 2013 between the Provost, Vice-Provost and Chief Financial Officer, Capitation cuts were discussed.

Following the meeting, the CFO, the Treasurer of College, presented a memorandum to the Planning Group on 22nd January 2013 where cuts of €822,000 to Non-COO/Non-Faculty Costs (of which Capitations is a part) were agreed. Non-COO/Non-Faculty Costs are expenditure that do not come under the purview of either the Chief Operating Officer or faculty as a whole. The Planning Group is a subgroup of the Executive Officers. It was established by the Executive Officers in 2008 to address the financial difficulties facing College due to the recession. Following their recommendation in their report to the Board in February 2009 the Planning Group was made permanent. The Group is charged with implementing College’s Strategic Plan.  The members of the Planning Group are the Vice-Provost, the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Financial Officer, the Dean of Research, the Dean of Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, the Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Dean of Health Sciences, the Vice-President for Global Relations, the Director of Human Resources,  the Bursar/Director of Strategic Innovation, the Director of the Trinity Foundation, the Academic Secretary, the Manager of the Academic Services Division and the Financial Resources Manager.

In a Memo sent to the Finance Committee from the Chief Financial Officer dated 14th March 2013, it was reported that College was projecting a ¤7.7 million deficit for 2012/13, ¤1.7 million more than the ¤6 million planned deficit agreed by Board in June 2012. The Memo also contained a “reconciliation” of the differences between the estimates prepared in June and the estimates arrived at in March, the time of the meeting of the Finance Committee, 20th March 2013. These reconciliations deal with the period of 2012/2013, however under Non-COO/Non-Faculty Costs, cuts for 2013/2014 are mentioned. These are the only budgetary figures for 2013/2014 mentioned in the memorandum.

The Memo mentioning the agreed cuts appears on the meeting’s agenda as concerning the Consolidated Financial Estimates for 2012/2013. The committee recommended the 2012/2013 Estimates to Board, however there is no mention to Capitations cuts in the minutes of this meeting of the Finance Committee.

At the Board meeting on 27th March 2013, it was noted that Non-COO/Non-Faculty Costs were higher than projected, although again no specific mention of Capitations or the agreed cuts to Capitations were made. The Board approved the Consolidated Financial Estimates for 2012/2013 and according to the minutes seen by Trinity News, “noted the 2013/2014 Projections as presented”. At the meeting on 26th June 2013, Board approved the budget presented for 2013/2014, which was proposed as part of the Planning Group’s Report No. 9. The report, obtained by Trinity News, has only one area of expenditure under the heading “Reducing Costs, Driving Efficiencies”, that is Non-COO/Non-Faculty.  In the area of Non-COO/Non-Faculty, three areas are considered for cuts: Postgraduate Awards, Entrance Exhibitioners and Scholarship. There is no mention of cuts to Capitations in the Report. In the minutes for the meeting, under the heading “Cost Management”, it says that “the proposals will be presented once a review of fee levels has been undertaken and that other areas outside of the faculty and admin areas will also be examined.” Again there is no mention of Capitations cuts. The Capitation cuts have been snuck under the radar and College has seemingly gone out of its way to keep the subject as grey as possible. Though the cuts were being discussed as early as January 2013, the Capitated bodies were not informed until ten months later.

There has been no mention of Capitations at a Finance Committee or Board level outside of the Memo at the 20th March meeting of the Finance Committee. Whenever Non-COO/Non-Faculty costs are being discussed it appears that Capitations are deliberately not mentioned.  Students, through the Capitated bodies that represent them, have been completely shut out from the process that led to these cuts. They were agreed upon before any student representatives even knew they were a possibility. The body ultimately behind the cuts, indeed behind any decision made by College today, is the Planning Group. There is no student representation on the Planning Group. They do make neither their agendas nor minutes available to the public.  The Higher Education Authority’s General Principles set out in their Framework of Good Practice the “need for meaningful consultation with students in relation to the allocation of funding to student services.” The Student’s Union passed a mandate in January of this year calling on the “SU President to lobby the Planning Group to make their minutes available upon request.” As long as students are not part of the decision making process on a meaningful level then student services will continue to be the aspects of College life that suffer in this climate of austerity and emphasis on profit, driven by a Planning Group unconcerned with students’ views on what makes Trinity worthwhile.All information concerning our College should be made available to us. All decisions that are going to affect us should include out input. There are still questions to be asked about the “due process” followed in deciding upon these cuts. The language used in the official records is incredibly vague and difficult to interpret, not to be easily accessed by those not already in the know.

The Planning Group is the result of a decision by the few to further concentrate power in the hands of the few, an unaccountable body with airs of being accountable to themselves.. The suggested three month concession offered to the Capitated bodies is a sign of the contempt in which the student body is held by the College machine. Having been locked out of the decision-making process, we have been thrown a bone because we managed to do the very least and question the institutionalised marginalisation of the student body. The student services provided by the Capitated bodies are an integral part of the Trinity experience and for many students are the aspect of College that they engage the most with in their day to day experience of what it is to be a student at Trinity. It’s also a side of College that nobody on the Planning Group has anything to do with and therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise to us when they decide to cut it and not feel the need to consult with those who do provide or use the services. Unless we insist upon real and effective student representation and input at a decision-making level then the students of Trinity will continue to go unheard in their own College.

The planned cuts of 5% for 2014/2015 are going ahead and will set  a precedent that shows that a select few can run College as they see fit, unopposed by the majority who are affected by their decisions.

D. Joyce-Ahearne

D is former Contributing Editor of Trinity News and Trinity Graduate.