The author of an Irish Independent article that the Union of Students’ in Ireland have used to bolster their “Stop Fees” campaign has said a quoted figure of €5, rx 000 for third level fees was purely “hypothetical.”
Kim Bielenberg’s report, decease entitled “As standards tumble, are college fees a certainty?” was published in the Irish Independent on Wednesday 12th October.
The article looked at how Irish universities have tumbled down world rankings and how some academics are calling for the introduction of third level fees. Professor, Tom Begley, who recently stepped down as Dean of the UCD Smurfit School of Business, said that the government has little alternative but to introduce fees.
The article then quotes an anonymous university source who points out what would be needed to put Irish universities on a sound footing.
“The recent Hunt report on Higher Education estimated that an extra €500m was needed to plug the gap in college funding by 2020.
One senior university manager told the Irish Independent that fees of around €5,000 a year were needed to put universities on a sound footing.”
It is clear from the article that the “senior university manager” is not a government official. Bielenberg confirmed to the College Tribune that €5,000 was a hypothetical figure.
Despite this, when speaking to the College Tribune three weeks ago, the Irish Independent article was the only source the USI could cite for the €5,000 figure.
Gary Redmond, President of the USI said “government are remaining tight lipped on it at the moment but certainly if that was to be the case it would be absolutely shocking from a student’s perspective.”
Redmond was under the impression the figure quoted in the article was from a government source. He also said “none of our own sources in government are ruling anything in or out.”
The figure has now become a central part of the national campaign against fees, with posters dotted all across the UCD campus asking students “Can you afford €5,000 contribution fee?” A Facebook event set up by the UCD Students’ Union reads,” THREATENED STUDENT CONTRIBUTION INCREASE UP TO €5,000!! ”
Some have accused the USI scaremongering students onto the streets with such high a figure when there appears to be no solid indication, as of yet, from the government that the student contribution could increase by €3,000 in the next budget.
Others have taken a more cynical stance, one comment on a collegetribune.ie story that provoked a lot of reaction read; “Lets face it – USI has effectively dropped the campaign for free education. They are actively campaign on the basis that students should pay €2,000 to go to college. As for the potential €5,000 – it’s a tactic that’s been used almost every time they hike the reg fee/student contribution. Here’s the standard kite-flying strategy: The government & USI float an enormous figures in the media, to friends, online etc. Fees are increased (to about half of the floated figure). USI then claims this as a victory – their campaigning has been successful in reducing the proposed hike (although fees have increased, and students are worse off). It also allows the junior party in government (Labour, like the Greens before them), to claim that they did all they could – that the hike would have been even worse if they weren’t in coalition with a big nasty party like FG or FF. Everyones a winner – USI and the government – except students who actually have to pay the fee.”
However Redmond in the same interview three weeks ago also pointed out, “Yes we protested last year and unfortunately the registration fee did go up by €500, but it didn’t go up as much as it could have.”
He also said that similar allegations were being made against the USI last year, “I think the message we are trying to get across to students is last year they [the government] were looking for €3,000 and that is something we said at the time and I think some people called our bluff and I think subsequently we have been vindicated by documents that were released earlier on in the year and this time I think they are looking for €5,000.”
Gary Redmond was not available for comment this weekend however Pat de Brún, President of UCD Students’ Union said that the reality is that students could be facing full fees, and €5,000 “would be a mean figure for what they are.”
“We actually feel full on fees could come back next year and if they do those are the kind of figures that we would be looking at realistically.”
When asked whether he believed the USI may deliberately be misleading their members de Brún said, “I think you would have to be hugely cynical to believe that that would be the intention of the organisation.”
“I do believe that isn’t true and I do believe that Gary [Redmond] and USI more generally would not just pluck up a figure to generate more interest.”
USI’s national demonstration will take place in Dublin city centre on Wednesday 16th November. An information evening will be held for UCD students this Thursday in Theatre L in the Newman building at 6pm.