Trinity’s Graduate Students Union (GSU) this afternoon held a town hall meeting to further discuss the proposed increase in postgraduate fees. The College Finance Committee approved a 5% increase in postgraduate and non-EU undergraduate fees, beginning in the 2018/19 academic year. The fee increase will affect both new and continuing students. The 5% increase was in excess of what had been implemented in previous years and what student body representatives had been anticipating.
A number of senior College officers were present at the town hall, including Chief Financial Officer Ian Mathews, Chief Operating Officer Geraldine Ruane and Dean of Graduate Studies Professor Neville Cox.
Addressing the meeting, Mathews insisted that College’s objective was to deliver the “best teaching, best research and best student experience” and that this required additional financial resources. He cited “significant reductions in funding” from the state as among the financial pressures facing Trinity and higher education institutions in general.
Mathews pointed to College’s continued deficit over the past five years. He noted, however, that universities such as UCD were reporting profits whereas Trinity is facing a budget deficit of €9.4 million as of the 2016 accounts. Drawing comparisons between UCD and Trinity, Mathews noted that UCD has a higher percentage of non-EU students leading to an increased income, stating that 25% of all students in UCD are non-EU students.
He further warned that the funding agencies regulatory bodies overseeing Trinity’s accounts such as the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and eventually perhaps the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee would be placing greater attention and pressure on Trinity over its budget deficit. Mathews noted that “the ultimate is that some other agency comes in and runs the organisation because we can’t,” and continued to say that “we need to get ourselves organised”. Trinity projects that it will reduce its budget deficit to €4 million by the end of the 2021/22 academic year.
Referring to the 5% increase, Mathews stated that “these are the fees that we can control” and that they were “market based”. Postgraduate and non-EU undergraduate fees are set by individual institutions, whereas the general student contribution for undergraduates is set by the government. Mathews later said that if the university were to increase undergraduate fees, the state would decrease their funding to the same degree. He said that it would be a “zero sum game and politically challenging to go against the government”.
Mathews stated several strategies that College aims to use to increase revenue and to be “less dependent on the exchequer”, including an increase in non-EU students to the university, as well as increased income from Trinity’s Business School. Mathews noted that UCD Smurfit school is “10 years ahead” of Trinity in terms of revenue.
Both the GSU and the Trinity College Dublin Students Union (TCDSU) had previously pledged to oppose the proposed increase. A motion to “explore industrial action if the university continues with the 5% increase” was passed at GSU Council on October 25th. SU President Kevin Keane, speaking to Trinity News at the time, said that he intended to provide “very significant” support to postgraduates and stressed the importance of a “united front”.
Finishing his address to the meeting, Mathews said that College needs “to achieve €40 million a year which will cover reinvestment on student service,” and said that this would ensure the university reaches a “sustainable position:”.
Geraldine Ruane, Chief Operating Officer of College, began her address by saying that her team aims to increase funds toward student services. Ruane noted that in 2014, net commercial income was €14 million, with an increase to €23 million this year. She said that this was due to the “strength of the brand”. Ruane said that College would prioritise an increase in councillors and medical staff over the coming years, and with an increase in funds, College aims to increase funds to IT services, with plans to create a digital brand, with additional apps. Trinity currently offers one app for its students, the My Day app.
Professor Neville Cox insisted that Trinity needed to be “more proactive in seeking external funding” both from research programs and from alumni. He argued that “as a university we are strained” and highlighted the pressure on Trinity’s resources.
Additional reporting by Seana Davis