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€5,000 a “hypothetical” figure says Bielenberg

UCD Students' Union poster promoting a Town Hall style meeting to discuss the USI campaign
UCD Students' Union poster promoting a Town Hall style meeting to discuss the USI campaign

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.”

Quinn signing a pledge to students before the General Election earlier this year. Quinn, now education minister, may renege his promise.
Quinn signing a pledge to students before the General Election earlier this year. Quinn, now education minister, may renege his promise.

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.

 

 Donie O’Sullivan

donie@collegetribune.ie

7 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting to see an outrageous figure being thrown around to scare students who are already struggling and stressed! seems to me we should allow the minister to announce the actual proposed amount if any, as there has been absolutely no clarity on this issue from the department just hearsay, as we can see above references from Managers etc. are not official figures so there’s no real merit to them. I also find it odd that such a huge fee is proposed by USI considering last years 3,000? Either they realised they got a boost in popularity and a good pat on the back for seemingly reducing the increase to just 500 last year and now have realised if they have a bigger figure proposed it will look like they saved even more this year or there are elements of USI that are purely Anti- Labour even though they are clearly the only party trying to find alternative methods of funding higher education.
    they allowed the FF government that has caused all these increases in fees, destroyed the economy so now young people have to leave the county to work and have sold out our sovereignty because of bank’s failures, the courtesy to release some ball park figures about the increases so why hasn’t the current Government been given the same.
    I do not propose USI doesn’t hold the labour party and government to account and make sure they stick as reasonably possible the promises made. I do think they should allow the new government to consult with them and explain their new position and what proposals are to come before making outrageous claims with no merit. USI had a great protest last year ! However this is not FF we’re dealing with this is a government that understands students better and is pro free/ universal education so we need to know what they have planed before we go and protest! information is power and if you mislead students you lose trust and then we’ll really be lost!

    • This government is not “pro free/ universal education”.

      Fine Gaels stated policy position is that third level education should be funded through additional graduate PRSI contributions, a policy labelled “The Third Way”.

      Similarly, Labour do not believe in “”pro free/ universal education”” – they have no issue with partially funding education through direct student charges, such as the current €2,000 student contribution.

  2. ‘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 don’t you’d be a cynic saying that USI are deliberately misleading their members but a realist.
    Why are USI and UCDSU accusing the Labour Party of lying when it is themselves who are spitting lies to students. We have not had the budget, fees have not been increased, as of yet the Labour Party have not lied about anything.
    Although there more than likely will be an increase to the reg fee it will not be anywhere close to the €5000 fee quoted. No sabatical officer has defended where they have gotten this estimate from as they realise it has been entirely augmented to create a sense of fear amongst students.

    I didn’t see USI or UCDSU put out posters, such as these, when FF were in government, it is probably linked to the fact that USI and UCDSU is filled with, mostly, FF sabatical officers.

    Hypocrits and liars the lot of them. The sooner USI stop speaking on what they think is what the student concensus is the better.

  3. Why doesn’t the poster in the article ask , “Can you afford a €2,000 student contribution fee?” This is the situation thousands of students find themselves in, and are struggling with.

    Rather than basing a campaign around the existing problems students face, USI officers chose to launch a campaign which revolves around a hypothetical figure, plucked out of the air by an anonymous source.

    “Cynics”, as they’re being labelled, would argue that the idea behind using an inflated figure is that any increase in the student contribution below €5,000 can be spun by USI as an indication that their lobbying model is effective. Take last year as an example – the student contribution/reg fee saw it’s largest ever increase, yet USI officers still manages to save fave & put a positive spin on it – ” It didn’t go up as much as it could have.” It’s clear that the groundwork for a similar scenario is is already being laid for this year.

    A couple of weeks ago. USI officers announced the “Freeze Fees, Save the Grant” campaign – a campaign whose primary aim was to maintain students fees of €2,000. Following criticism from USI members that this was abandoning the campaign against student fees, USI officers changed the slogan to “Stop Fees, Save the Grant”, in a move designed to appease students who believe that education should be paid for through public funding rather than direct student fees.

    While the name of the campaign changed, the aim of the campaign did not.

    The aim of the campaign is not to oppose student fees, but to oppose possible increases in student fees – USI no longer actively campaigns for free education. This is an undisputed fact.

    Todays relaunch of the TellYour TD.com website contains a template letter in which USI calls on TDs not to vote for increases in the student charge, or further cuts to the maintenance grant.. There is no stated opposition to fees as they currently stand, or opposition to last years regressive changes to the eligibility critera for the non-adjacent maintenance grant.

    The aim of the campaign is to maintain the status quo – €2,000 student fees, and an inadequate grants system.

    Lets be clear about what the stated aims of USI officers, their “Stop Fees” campaign, and the up-coming national protest are:

    1) Student fees are acceptable, as long as they do not increase above €2,000

    2) The grants levels are fine as it is, as long as there are no further cuts (despite last years drastic changes to the eligibility criteria for the non-adjacent rate).

    To answer the original question posed at the top of this comment – why doesn’t the campaign poster ask, “Can you afford a €2,000 student contribution fee?”

    The simple answer is that USI officers do not publicly oppose the €2,000 student contribution fee, and would view it as a victory if students ‘only’ have to pay another 2 grand next year.

    Nowhere in this campaign do USI officers argue what has been at the heart of USI policy since the 90s – that education is a social good, and should be paid for through public funding rather than student fees.

    In USIs 1999 pre-budget submission, they argued for the abolition of all student fees – http://bit.ly/s5HmbF. This was stated policy in countless USI press releases & pre-budget submissions over the next decade. In USIs Lobby of the Oireachtas document (November 11, 2009, page 4 http://bit.ly/u1LDNE ) USI were still calling for the complete abolition of the student services charge. AFAIK, this was the last time USI stated it’s outright opposition to student fees in all forms.

    USIs long-held policy of calling for the complete abolition of student fees has failed to appear in any press release, pre-budget submission or Lobby document, since Gary Redmond became USI President (AFAIK)

    While Gary Redmond has argued in a recent interview/podcast the campaigning against student fees themselves (rather than further hikes) is “unrealistic”, it’s not up to him to to make that decision – it should be up to USIs membership.

    If he holds that view, and wants to spend thousands to fund a campaign whose primary aim is to maintain a €2,000 student fee, then USI should organise referenda in constituent organisations to formally end the campaign for free education.

    If students aren’t happy with the education system as it stands, and want to campaign for better conditions, they need to put pressure on their local SUs, and USI to do likewise.

    USI was designed to be a bottom-up democratic organisation, yet there has been a slow, undemocratic change in effective USI policy since 2010.

    Here are a few questions student journos should put to USI.

    1) Up until 2009, it was publicly stated USI policy that the student contribution (formerly known as the student services charge, the registration fee, and the capitation fee) should be abolished

    [sources: 1999 pre-Budget submission http://bit.ly/s5HmbF , 2004 DIT campaign material http://bit.ly/uEhTpc, 2005 press release http://bit.ly/veeGSJ , 2006 press release – http://bit.ly/udboE1 , 2009 Lobby of the Oireachtas document page 4 http://bit.ly/u1LDNE ]

    Is this still USI policy?

    If it is, why hasn’t it appeared in any campaign or lobbying material in 2010 or 2011?

    If this is no longer USI policy, when was the policy changed, and who made the decision to change it?

    2) Similarly, USIs publicly stated policy over the past decade, including the 2009 “Why Ireland needs to enact the Student Services Bill” document, has been that the maintenance grant should be brought in line with social welfare levels to reflect the cost of living.

    [references: 1999 pre-Budget submission http://bit.ly/s5HmbF , 2001 article – http://bit.ly/tTrqIR , 2002 article – http://bit.ly/uu4Ciy , 2005 press release http://bit.ly/veeGSJ , 2009 “Why Ireland needs to enact the Student Services Bill” document page 3 http://bit.ly/uQPZP2 ]

    Is this still USI policy?

    If it is, why hasn’t it appeared in any campaign or lobbying material in 2010 or 2011?

    If this is no longer USI policy, when was the policy changed, and who made the decision to change it?

  4. One of the least intelligent article headlines I’ve ever read.

    Of course it’s a hypothetical figure, the budget isn’t out yet? If it was the real figure written in the budget it’d be all a bit late wouldnt it? Any figure is hypothetical until the budget is produced. shocking journalism.

    The figure I would imagine is based around the hunt report stressing that we need a further 500m in education funding annually and a recent hea sustainability report that implores the reintroduction of fees. It’s 5k because we’re not talking about upping the reg fee a little, there is a serious risk if not this year then definitely next year of the return of third level tuition fees.

  5. ^ Least intelligent comment on an article ever.

    According to Fine Gaels ‘the third way’ about 3rd level education suggest fees of 3,500-3,800 euro with increases in fees for other courses. The 5,000 euro figure is hypothetical because the USI have based and entire campaign on one source, who isnt even a government official.That’s what the articles about. A fitting headline/

  6. ^^ Fine Gaels ‘the third way’ not only wasn’t adopted into government, but wasnt even a part of their election plans in the end as after being invited to the department of finance as all parties were in the lead up to the election they decided the third way was insufficient and that instead they would “take a full review of the hunt report” and also a hea sustainability report due to be released to the minister by december to decide on the future of education funding.

    Having been told by the Troika that we can’t afford a graduate tax or loan scheme as we can’t afford to borrow any more money and either of those systems would not see a return for what, 15-20 years?

    The Hunt report and the sustainability report implore the return of 3rd level fees, go on your sis web balance and tell me how much the hea’ free fees funding was and add that to the ‘student contribution charge and tell me what figure you get there?

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