UCD Student Services have confirmed that in the event that the upcoming Student Levy referendum is passed, the money from the levy will be “ringfenced” for the new student centre and student services in general. In a meeting with The College Tribune, Head of Student Services Dominic O’Keefe emphasised that this referendum and the current proposals were for the benefit of students and this was a student project at its core. The current student levy brings in approximately €6.5 million for the student centre every year.
O’Keefe said that this referendum was in effect students setting University policy with regards to financing and funding of a major capital development project. The current proposals for the new student centre are estimated to cost €70 million. This figure includes a €3 million donation secured via the UCD Foundation for a new running track.
This referendum required a delicate balance to be struck as all Student Union referendums must be student led and student launched. Outside interference on the behalf of UCD or any external body can have a referendum declared invalid.
This required a three-way conversation between the Student Centre Staff who collected from students a “shopping list” of new facilities being sought, the nascent vote yes campaign and the Returning Office for UCDSU to facilitate such a referendum being brought. This conversation was required to “lock in the legal text” that is the current referendum document and to ensure that this meets the test of a student referendum. O’Keefe said this is “similar to what happened previously [in 2006] where the chair of societies council led the campaign”.
O’Keefe spoke about how the current proposals being put to the student body were developed by a working group that has been in place since July 2018. These proposals include a new basketball court, new gym studios and other facilities outlined on the referendum document. These facilities were identified he said, based on capacity issues currently facing the University and bearing in mind the aim to grow the student body.
The working group was comprised of all stakeholders in the current student centre including UCD SU President Barry Murphy, Chair of the Societies Council James Alkayed, head of sports among others. They identified the current shortcomings of the student centre and sought to identify the relevant facilities required. Clubs and Societies were also invited through workshops to contribute their ideas.
In response to student concerns that the student levy is just an additional revenue source for UCD, O’Keefe said that the student levy can only be used for the purposes of funding the student centre. He noted that “over the next five years also, we’ve a flat line budget” with no projected increases in funding from UCD or the Government. Because the money was approved via a student referendum it could only be used for the purpose laid out in that referendum. Additionally, due to the fact that the Student Centre has no shareholders or private interests involved, with Jason Masterson, manager of the Student Centre saying “our job at the end of the year is to balance the budget.”
Jason Masterson the manager of the Student Centre added that there was a common misconception that the Student Centre was regularly booked out to third-party groups for profit. This, however, is not evident from the semester one statistics from this year, where only 1% of student centre bookings were by outside groups. Masterson said that it was far more common for societies and clubs to attempt to book the same room as each other leading to clashes between student groups.
The current project they emphasised was as a response to demands from numerous sports clubs across campus who were all seeking additional facilities. Most clubs have some grievance with the lack of facilities available to them and the staff argued that many facilities were no longer fit for purpose.
The proposals for the new student centre were seen by many students first as a result of a meeting with club captains earlier this month, where the proposal document was presented by Max Murphy, now the leader of the vote yes campaign. This document at the time has serval claims attached to it, detailing possible cuts to services if the levy was not extended. This addition to the referendum policy document resulted in an apology from Mr O’Kefee who at the time said: “this document should not have been produced.”
Voting on the extension of the student centre levy takes place alongside Student Union Elections on 1st and 2nd of April. Arguments from both campaigns can be found inside this issue of The College Tribune.
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor