“Postgraduates have been a cash cow for the college”: Interview with GSU Presidential candidate Oisin Vince Coulter

Lauren Boland sits with sole presidential candidate Oisin Vince Coulter to discuss postgraduate fees, opting-out of GSU, and women in leadership

As Chair of the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU), former Treasurer of the Trinity Publications committee, and former Editor of Trinity News, Oisín Vince Coulter draws on his varied experience within College in his bid for the presidency of the GSU. The sole candidate for the position sat down with Trinity News to outline his plans and goals.

If elected, Vince Coulter envisions payment conditions for postgraduate workers on campus and the recognition of postgraduate workers as workers as the key campaign issues. While recognising the long-term scope of these issues, he notes that the first step would be raising the issue with College. “The reality is, most of what happens here is reliant on various labour of postgraduate students,” Vince Coulter explains. If College proves to be “lukewarm” on negotiations around the recognition and payment of postgraduate student workers, Coulter is prepared to “open the door to lobbying, activism and more action on behalf of the GSU to push the issue, and of course the broader question of working with trade union”.

When it comes to postgraduate fees, Vince Coulter takes a firm stance: “It’s clear that postgraduates have been a cash cow for the college”. Although fees for postgraduate students have risen over the last four years, Vince Coulter feels that the right conditions are in place this year for action to be taken against further increases. He identifies strike action as a potential avenue, along with a grassroots campaign which could take actions such as gathering signatures, protesting and lobbying.  

Vince Coulter opposes the principle of opting-out of a student union. “I believe that the purpose of a Union is to represent its members. By coming to a university, you are choosing to opt-in to a Union. I think that it destroys the power of a Union to negotiate, lobby and campaign when people opt-out of them.” However, he highlights that the GSU does not face the problem of declining engagement the Trinity College Dublin Student’s Union (TCDSU) has had to tackle. Vince Coulter notes that in recent years, the GSU has “substantially built on its engagement”, citing a sizeable increase in class reps this year in comparison to previous years and an increasing turnout. “I think more graduate students are becoming aware of the GSU and getting involved in it. Part of that is that unlike the Student’s Union, the issues really affect the day to day lives of graduate students.”

Considering the international nature of the graduate student body, Vince Coulter recognises the importance of supporting students who may be marginalised along race lines. “The key issue always is making sure that people, no matter their background, feel involved in student and college life and feel the Union is somewhere they can go to that will help them be involved and overcome any issues they may have,” Vince Coulter explains. He highlights the work of the International Officer and the Global Room and his desire to work closely with them. In relation to sexuality, Vince Coulter hopes to introduce a LGBT+ officer to the GSU.

In the context of a GSU election where all three candidates are male, and the recent SU election where women accounted for only two out of twelve candidates, what can Coulter do to encourage women’s participation in student politics at a leadership level? He notes that while the GSU has a markedly better track record on balanced gender representation among sabbatical officers in comparison to the SU, he would agree with current TCDSU Education Officer Alice MacPherson’s recommendation that it is not a case of merely running workshops, but of encouraging and sponsoring women who are interested in becoming involved and ensuring they feel supported in reaching those positions. “It’s often the case that a mediocre man will feel capable of running for something when a very qualified woman wouldn’t [feel capable],” Vince Coulter explained.

With regards to the student accommodation crisis, Vince Coulter feels that graduate students are, to a degree, impacted even more than undergraduate students due to its international student body. There is a problem in that graduate students “arrive into the country and are dropped into a situation where it is extremely difficult to find housing.” While a reduced rate was offered for graduate students at Kavanagh Court, Coulter is not confident in College continuing this deal. If elected to GSU President, he would “work on a national level” with other bodies seeking to create change in the housing market.

Although Vince Coulter supports the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and its work, he finds it unacceptable that the GSU is not recognised as a students’ union by the USI. “At present, we are affiliated [with the USI] because TCDSU claims to represent postgrads, and so postgrads pay the annual levy to USI. I think there is a possibility that we could look into College no longer paying that levy on behalf of postgraduate students, given that the GSU represents postgraduate students are we are not a member of the USI,” explains Vince Coulter. “I’d be very hopeful that the USI would be productive in trying to meet with us and see where we could work together.”

Additionally, Vince Coulter would seek to facilitate an update of democratic methods through trialling online forms of “direct democracy” where students can indicate what areas they want the GSU to act on and discuss at Council. As an involved member of the Aramark Off Our Campus campaign, Vince Coulter wishes to continue commercial revenue fundraising, but to do so in an increasingly ethical manner.

Lauren Boland

Lauren Boland was the Editor of the 67th volume of Trinity News. She is an English Literature and Sociology graduate and previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.