The fee stands at €2,000 per person, with it now seeming inevitable that the forthcoming budget will include an increase to figure.
Students’ Union President Ryan Bartlett stressed time and again both the complexity of the issue and the uncertainty surrounding it. He explained that the government has remained tight-lipped on the issue, confirming only that the increased fee will be lower than the UK equivalent, currently roughly €10,500. The last month has seen the USI and local SU’s personally contact each government TD in an attempt to uncover their intentions regarding fees, with little success.
Bartlett said that his message to the general student population is to get in contact with their local TD and make them aware of the potential effects on them of increased fees. He explained that many have already been adversely effected, even citing himself as proof of that fact. He said that he would have been prevented from attending college had the current fee of €2,000 applied to him during his final year.
As far as saving the grant is concerned, the USI has been left with an uphill struggle. This year has seen a €36m fall in grant funding with a mere €4m added to the student assistance fund instead.
Bartlett lamented the rushed nature of the campaign and protest but explained that it was necessary if any effect on the national budget was to be felt. He acknowledged that last year’s ‘Education, not Emigration’ campaign had been criticised and misunderstood by some, which may have weakened its effect on budget negotiations, and that education may be seen as an obvious target for the Government again this year.
Along with social welfare and healthcare, education, at €8bn, is one of the top three areas of expenditure for the government, and is vulnerable as a result. He accepted that an end to fees altogether was unrealistic despite the title of the USI campaign.
Dan Ferrick, faculty convenor for Engineering, Mathematics and Science, said that the SU was “between a rock and a hard place” regarding the campaign, which he stressed was largely the work of the USI and not of TCDSU. He stressed, however, that Trinity involvement, as Ireland’s top rated university, is crucial to add further weight to the campaign.
Each member of the council was emphatic in their assurances of the “massive” repercussions sure to be felt by an increase in the student contribution fee. Welfare Officer Louisa Miller stressed that the cutbacks would have a generational effect, setting the country back decades. Education Officer Rachel Barry said that there were many in attendance who would not be able to afford the increases being discussed at government level and that their younger siblings would be worse off again.
The council attempted to clarify the facts surrounding what is clearly an emotive issue. Current government proposals do not, they explained, include plans for a graduate tax, a loan system, or even the possibility of means testing. The latter of the three is supposedly considered “a non-runner” by the government as it would be too expensive to means test each of the 16,000 students attending the college. While the absence of a graduate tax has been confirmed by Minister Quinn, both government officials and the IMF have ruled out any chance of a loan system.
The meeting also saw the approval of a town hall meeting, proposed by Communications Officer Ronan Costello, to reach a consensus regarding a new policy on fees. Due to timing constraints, the meeting will not come in time for the national student protest but will seek to replace the previous SU stance on fees, adopted in 2008, which has since expired.
When asked if the council had attempted to get college academics on board, Bartlett said that many academics are already involved “in a certain way”. He acknowledged that many held strong opinions on the matter and raised the bizarre reality that a rise in fees would actually see a fall in overall revenue for the college.
When the question of possible clashes between lectures and the protest was raised, he said that staff will be contacted in the hope that allowances can be made. He also confirmed that he intends to contact all college political parties regarding the campaign, including the college branches of Fine Gael and the Labour Party.
Finally, Bartlett was asked about the long term message of the SU to the government, once the campaign and protest are over. The response came almost in the form of a plea as he warned, “whatever you do, don’t make things worse for students.”