Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) Council has voted this evening to strengthen its stance on fees and loans in a motion put forward by the Students Against Fees (SAF) group. TCDSU is now mandated to campaign for a publicly-funded system of higher education.
The motion, which was proposed by Conor Reddy, Secretary of Students Against Fees, and seconded by Stephen Cunningham, JS Immunology class rep, noted that TCDSU “does not have a formal position on how higher education should be funded”. However, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) does have a pre-existing policy calling on the government to introduce a publicly-funded system. As a result of a motion in the 2015/16 academic year, the previous TCDSU stance was against the further increases of fees only, without advocating a new model of funding.
After organisation efforts by the SAF group, a number of students spoke in favour of the motion. Speaking in favour of the motion, Conor Reddy said that “we need to have a genuine vision of what education can and should be”, as opposed to what he called the “soft rhetoric” of the current USI position, which advocates free education to be phased in over 14 years.
TCDSU President, Kieran McNulty said that, while loans can potentially work in some cases, even the example of Britain showed that “£40 out of every 100 are not paid back in the UK”, and that that system is “crumbling in on itself” “If there’s a recovery, we need to be part of it”, he said.
Only one student spoke against the motion, saying that, as a student from Northern Ireland in receipt of a loan, she could see the positives, as it passed the cost from her parents to herself, later in her career.
Speaking to Trinity News before the motion was passed, Reddy said that after some hesitation, the motion had the support of McNulty, with back and forth taking place between the two groups before reaching agreement on the final motion.
Reddy, who is also the TCDSU Science Convener and the Amenities Officer of Trinity People Before Profit (PBP), said that the group behind the motion realised that the Union “didn’t have a position” on the issue and decided to “put something more solid forward”. The motion called for a free, publicly funded model of higher education, which Reddy noted was one of the potential options outlined in the Cassells Report which was released in July 2016.
Speaking to Trinity News before the motion passed, McNulty said: “We’re kind of at a crossroads with the higher education funding system at the minute, and it can probably go one of two ways.”
He continued: “Loan systems in Britain and Australia have major problems and pitfalls” and “it’s naive to think we could do loans better than the UK, or do it better than Australia”. He emphasised, however, that any move to a single-payer system of higher education “won’t happen overnight”, and that the issue required continued and increased investment in order to increase access and opportunity.
The motion mandated a “formal position against fees and income contingent loans in all forms and that the Union support tax-payer funded, free education for all”. The motion also called for “a campaign set up to reform the SUSI grant, expanding the window of eligibility, and also taking into account the increased cost of living in cities”.
The motion passed, though the vote was not unanimous.
Additional reporting by Cathal Kavanagh and Oisín Vince Coulter.