Boy it’s been a busy couple of weeks, with students protesting more than Greta Thunberg on Friday. The issue though? Well, it’s kind of a whole bunch of issues muddled into one little movement. Here’s a quick summary!
The catalyst for these recent actions has been UCD’s decision to increase the on-campus student accommodation rents by over 12% over the next 3 years. This seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. As per our graph on page 4, this increase is far from unusual from UCD management. With state funding for higher education at a critically low level, tackling the housing crisis effectively isn’t easy.
This brings us to our next big issue: money! Student groups such as UCD Students’ Union, Fix Our Education UCD and Anti-Casualisation UCD have been heavily critical of the spending practices of the current administration. The greatest hits include a €12.4 million University Club, just shy of €1 million on luxury flights, at least €5.5 million on the purchasing of off-campus residential properties, €7.5 million on renovations to Ardmore house, and the list goes on. University President Andrew Deeks has cited the reason for the rent increase as a need to fund the new residences currently being built on-campus. Although there isn’t one big UCD money pot where funds can be dished out here and there willy nilly, there is an air of great frustration in Belfield towards UCD’s general spending practices.
Deeks and his colleagues have said they won’t back down on the rent increases, angering students but not halting the protests.
Another issue that’s been thrown into the mix, is the alleged ‘casualisation’ of graduate students in UCD. Student group Anti-Casualisation UCD submitted a petition to the University Management Team (UMT) with over 2,000 signatures, calling for increased stipend and working conditions for PhD students at UCD. The UMT rejected the suggestion that UCD was casualising its workforce but conceded to conduct a review of the payments for casual teaching in UCD.
There is a considerable amount of hostility amongst the student body towards the rent hikes. One large reason is so UCD can afford building the new residences. Our Deputy Editor Alex Lohier took a look at the residence plans in place (page 6), and honestly it looks pretty cool. Rent hikes aside, the new residences will have a lot of great facilities. As Alex says: “Central to the Phase 1 development is the ‘Fulcrum’ building, a 5-storey building with a 2-storey student centre housing a 290-seat auditorium, restaurant, grocery shop, cafe and food pop-up stores (with the potential for a bar), a gym, a health and wellbeing centre and numerous meeting rooms. […] There are plans for a bank branch, a dry-cleaners, a new bus stop, a barber shop and a sporting area suitable for basketball, volleyball, netball, handball and rock climbing.”
With the Students’ Union calling all students to partake in a protest on March 4th from 12pm by the Student Centre, it’s clear they intend to keep going on this one. Union Officers have recently claimed that this will be “the biggest protest UCD has ever seen.” With comparably low numbers at the recent protests, it will take some sort of miracle to get the numbers they need to change Deeks’ mind.
Conor Capplis – Editor