Editorial: The Confucius Centre Controversy
The editorial of a newspaper is a space and opportunity for the editor to express the opinions of the publication, generally on a pertinent topic in recent news.
I feel there will be little revelations more pressing to UCD students in the coming weeks as the controversy emerging over the cost of the new Confucius Centre in UCD. €4,100,000 or €4.1 million is now the bill UCD has been left with in order to complete the project, to avoid a diplomatic incident with the Chinese government.
€4.1 million out of the university budget; money that goes on student and staff services, in what appears to be a deal that was signed which left UCD open to carry almost all the risks involved. €4.1 million that now must be found from within the university’s budget, the same budget that supplies the funding for our Library, support services, and mental health services. The same budget that looks to keep teaching & learning facilities up to scratch or build more on-campus student accommodation.
The motivation behind UCD’s pivot to China; as covered in the Tribune’s first issue this year, appears to be an attempt to increase the college’s global image. The strategy behind this effort to be recognised internationally, is to then attract an increasing number of international (non-EU) students. Primarily because UCD charge international students generally between €17,000 – €25,000 a year to student in Belfield. In contrast they receive €9,000 from an Irish or EU citizen student (€6,000 from the state on a per-student grant basis, and €3,000 in the Student Contribution Charge). The spin of course is that UCD wishes to be an internationally diverse college, but as with many other things the bottom line is just that, money. This fawning over international students unfortunately appears to end abruptly after they’re through the gates and their fees are in the university’s accounts.
This urgent pressure to attract as many international students as possible has been precipitated by a withdrawal in core funding to third-level institutions by the Irish government. The result has meant UCD in this instance has rushed head first into a deal at almost any cost or condition, in order to broker a sweetheart relationship with China.
For example, UCD as outlined in our lead piece, agreed to be liable to pay any additional costs if the project construction exceeded the initial total estimated cost of €7.4 million. Furthermore, UCD have agreed to guarantee the free use of the building for the Confucius Institute for 50 years. And if the college ever decide to end its relationship with the Confucius Institute and cease its operation from the Centre, UCD will be liable to repay China €60,000 a year, for each year remaining on the lease from when they cut ties. The result of UCD’s overly accommodating negotiating strategy means now after the inflation in the construction costs, they alone are left to pick up the €4.1 million bill.
In the letter President Deeks sent to the Department of Education which the College Tribune obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the UCD President outlines that the college is currently spending €3 million on “urgent maintenance” works in the Newman Building. This money which President Deeks describes he had “already committed” to refurbishment works, has been spent on upgrading first floor tutorial rooms, more IT support in tutorial rooms, and for example refurbishing the toilets and the seating upholstery in lecture halls. These works over the summer were much needed to improve the characteristically dated learning environment of the Newman building.
It is unclear now how much the cost of servicing the unexpected €4.1 million cost of the Confucius Centre will have on delaying other refurbishment works and projects badly needed elsewhere by students to bring their teaching & learning environment up to an appropriate level. For example, much of the Newman building did not see any work done over the summer, nor did other older buildings such as Agricultural Science, or both the Science Centre West and North buildings.
It should also be noted that the Department of Education and the Irish government were more than happy to champion the Confucius Centre for its knock-on strategic trading and business importance between Ireland and China back in 2014. Yet now appear to be abdicating any responsibility for the project, leaving UCD to foot the inflated construction costs alone.
These are the kind of investigative stories that UCD does not want the students, staff or general public to hear about. But they are precisely the stories and controversies that need uncovering, and that is what I am hopeful to say the Tribune will continue to strive to do this year.