Capitation innovation

College’s culture of cuts is encouraging just the sort of “innovation” that Provost Patrick Prendergast has been trying to cultivate – but it could prove to be the death knell for many student print publications.

comment1There are two very clear messages being sent to students from college authorities at the moment. If the importance of budget cuts is one, then the other seems to be an encouragement to embrace a vague concept of ‘innovation’ in all that we do. For those responsible for our societies, publications and clubs, the former is necessitating the latter, quite often with less than perfect results.

The news of further cuts to the capitation budget in November was accompanied by barely a whimper of student outrage. Perhaps this is what has come to be expected as the norm by students who are continually targeted by cuts and increased levies. Our representatives who lead the capitated bodies seem to be accepting the latest round of cuts as inevitable, despite the fact that decreased funding is quite clearly leading to a decrease in the capabilities of societies, clubs and publications. For these three capitated bodies, in particular, the funding cuts are having a harsh effect. While the SU and, to a lesser extent, the GSU can absorb their budget cuts across a whole range of services and activities, the CSC, DUCAC and Pubs are forced to pass on budget cuts to the student organisations they represent. This is forcing a level of ‘innovation’ that the Provost would no doubt be excited by. But where this model runs into difficulty is that despite the best efforts of innovative student leaders alternative funding sources are proving largely inadequate.

Trinity Publications

Trinity Publications, which receives the lowest share of the capitation budget, is under the most pressure. This newspaper, and its affiliate magazine (tn2), are being forced more and more to turn to alternative forms of funding. For the main part this comes from advertising, an avenue that is being pursued by all the major college publications in order to supplement their income. The University Times remains an exception in this regard, as, for now, it receives its funding directly from the SU. However, given the current financial climate, it is worth considering how long UT will be able to ignore this general move towards external revenue sources. For publications such as this newspaper, advertising is becoming an integral part of the funding model, necessitating the creation of a dedicated staff position. The question remains however, as the trend for college news and comment moves away from traditional print towards social media, how long will this form of funding remain viable? Student news is increasingly to be found online, across the web and social media. The number of print copies for most major college publications is in decline. Yet, ironically, the current formula for financial salvation depends upon a physical spread and penetration across college that printed media simply cannot maintain.

While college news outlets move away from the medium of print, advertisers are moving in a similar direction. The nature of the low-level advertising space available in student publications means that it’s difficult to gauge the direct impact of a campaign. As a result, in many cases these businesses won’t renew their contracts beyond a single issue. On top of this, the decline of print advertising has long been a fact. It is difficult to imagine that student organisations can buck and reverse this trend. Student publications are increasingly dependent on a revenue source that simply does not exist in the volume that is being demanded. Despite the admirable efforts of many Trinity publications, small-scale advertising is simply not working. Furthermore, the necessity for increased reliance on this model has made it difficult to maintain the same quality of output as senior staff have increasingly being forced to devote their time to scrambling advertisements together before publication deadline. Not for want of trying, Trinity’s newspapers, journals and magazines cannot maintain the level of outside revenue demanded of them by the Publications committee.


College societies are in a far better position than publications, however even here funding cuts are being felt. Many societies are becoming more and more successful, running more and more events and attracting more and more student attention. In response to this, they are being forced to adapt their finance strategies. For the very active, the funding available from the CSC, while welcome and hugely helpful, simply doesn’t cover all of the costs of an active organisation. To this end alternative revenue sources are being sought, for example one large social can allow a society to subsidise trips and more expensive ventures. This reliance on large events, far from being detrimental to student life, is actually creating a rich and varied student experience with a large number of incredibly inventive events available. The success of this approach is however reliant on demand from members and incredibly devoted committees to realise these high-profile events.

New models

For the largest societies in college, sponsorship has been part of their funding model for several years. What’s new however is the extension of this model to mid-sized societies who are struggling to compete in a saturated space. Increasingly this is an area that is being seen as an attractive solution to the lack of college money made available by capitated bodies. Sports clubs have incorporated this into their own funding models for many years, indeed in many respects this seems a natural fit. Far less comfortable is the match between societies and sponsors which can often restrict the activities of a society in return for a large pay-cheque. Despite this, if student organisations are to continue to provide such a range of services and opportunities for free, sponsorship and a reliance on large money-making events seem to be the only way forward.

What’s clear is that student organisations are feeling the impact of budget cuts, and will continue to feel the pinch over the next few years. The Publications Committee, the CSC and DUCAC, for all that they try, cannot help but pass on some of the cuts to their constituent bodies. The support that these bodies provide should not be underestimated, nor should we seek to criticise them for losing a battle that was always weighted against them. It is important to remember that student organisations and the capitated bodies are on the same team. Recognition of this on both sides would go a long way towards presenting a more united and stronger response to future budget cuts. What’s more societies, clubs and publications should be praised for the “innovation” that they’re demonstrating right across the board. The Provost wants every Trinity student to become an entrepreneur – it would seem many already are. What’s lacking from the equation is any acknowledgement or support for this. Instead the only reaction appears to be increased financial pressure and a directive to try harder, hardly an incentive for those organisations that are struggling to adapt. College is compelling students to find new ways to fund life outside the classroom but so far this form of “innovation” is providing mixed results and gaining little appreciation. Rather than a means to succeed, for the capitated bodies, “innovation” is simply a means to get by.

William Earle A’Hern is Trinity News’ business manager.

Photo: Attie Papas