The Governing Authority (GA) of University College Dublin (UCD) has given no indication of seriously considering calls to partially refund fees to students, GA sources suggest. In recent weeks, a group of primarily international and graduate students have called on the university to consider a 30% rebate due to lack of access to promised on-campus facilities as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
While the contents of the GA meeting remain confidential, sources on the committee have told The College Tribune that partial refunds were briefly mentioned and there is no indication that they are being considered.
An online petition calling for a “rebate” of more than 30% of fees has reached over 1,000 signatures in recent weeks. International student Aaditya Shah, who set up the petition and a Facebook group with over 1,400 members, told the College Tribune that students are not getting what they paid for. He says that international students, who have paid tens of thousands of euro to attend the university, are now not receiving the benefits of on-campus facilities that were promised. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in university-wide virtual learning for the remainder of the year. Many international students are either stuck on-campus or travelled home before restrictions took effect.
At least 100 students partook in a recent letter writing campaign, which saw bulk emails sent to senior UCD figures such as Deputy President and Registrar Prof. Mark Rogers. Signed by three executive members of UCD Students’ Union, the letter calls for a 30% refund of fees as a “reasonable starting point for discussion.”
Following, Thursday’s meeting of the Governing Authority, Conor Anderson, current Graduate Officer and incoming President for UCD Students’ Union, said in a statement online that “the University’s answer remains a “no””, but encouraged students to continue sending emails. Anderson has indicated his intent to speak to Deputy President and Registrar Mark Rogers regarding the matter.
In the year ending 30 September 2019, UCD brought in over €230 million in academic fees. Isolated figures for international student fees are unavailable, but it is understood that it amounts to a significant portion of the total. 30% of this figure amounts to just shy of €70 million. Although UCD has reserves of almost €500 million, the university has already indicated it expects a negative impact of up to €100 million by the end of this year. Any success of this campaign would likely be disastrous to Irish university finances nationwide.
In an open meeting online, incoming UCD Students’ Union President Conor Anderson spoke with students on the potential effects of a successful campaign, admitting: “This group and these conversations could see the collapse of Higher Education” in Ireland.
Discussing potential next steps, Anderson also spoke on the possibility of a “tuition strike”, which would see students refuse to pay their final instalment in an act of protest. He said this would be “a serious escalation” but he is “all for a tuition strike” if students are behind it.
No Response to Open Letter
The student group Fix Our Education UCD (FOE) circulated an open letter to the university Governing Authority in March, calling for a reversal of the more than 12% rent increase on campus, a protection on funding for mental health and disability services, a protection on staff pay rates and a re-evaluation of university spending protocols. These calls arose in light of national projections of a recession which will greatly affect students financially.
According to sources, this was also briefly brought up at Thursday’s GA meeting and there was no indication of plans to implement the student calls. Over a month on, FOE has yet to receive a formal reply from university management to the letter.
A number of demands are outlined in the letter, presenting renewed calls for university action on a number of issues which came to the forefront at student protests earlier this year. The students are calling for: “A deferral of the proposed 12% rent hike in college accommodation until the impact of falling costs and newfound financial constraints which students have been placed under can be accurately assessed”, “Protecting the basic level of funding for mental health and disability services on campus”, “Protecting the basic pay rates of university staff, an end to zero hour contracts and casualisation of labour”, and “A re-evaluation of university spending protocol to tackle excessive spends on elitist infrastructure and wasteful luxuries.”
Conor Capplis – Editor