Students’ Union President Conor Viscardi revealed that UCD President Andrew Deeks favours a loan-scheme solution to the problem of third-level funding. The minutes from the meeting of the UCDSU Executive from the 15th September outlined that UCD President Deeks “preferred an income-contingent loan scheme”. Conor Viscardi, President of UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU), has confirmed there is an ongoing dialogue between the Union and UCD over third-level funding. Viscardi said he was liaising with both Professor Andrew Deeks, President of UCD, and Gerry O’Brien, Bursar of UCD, about the issue. He stressed the talks were merely “discussion based” at present.
Viscardi said the conversations with the two were about discussing the funding models for the sector and “highlighting and acknowledging the fact that the sector is underfunded.” He said that “holistically and philosophically there is an agreement there that there’s not enough funding in the sector” but there are “disagreements over the funding model” between the sides.
The funding models being discussed come from the Cassells’ Report and include, increased state funding both with and without student charges, or an income-contingent loan scheme which makes university free at the point of entry. While Viscardi was pleased with the release of the Cassells Report, he noted each option has “pros and cons to it, there’s no clear answer and that’s perhaps what’s maybe delaying the decision making process” due to the “political ramifications [facing the government] of picking one.”
Commenting on the meeting between Viscardi and Deeks, the SU President said that Deeks was viewing the situation from a global perspective, especially in relation to the operation of third-level education in the UK and Australia, and believed the Australian system worked well. Viscardi noted the technical complexity of implementing such a model as a major negative feature. Before taking up his role in UCD, Deeks had worked in the administration of both the University of Western Australia and Durham University in the UK. He holds joint-citizenship of the two countries.
UCDSU does not have a stance on fees, but has a “current standpoint” of highlighting the lack of funding of third-level education and wants to “alleviate the current financial burden on students.” Viscardi said that establishing a stance on fees “is definitely on our list of priorities,” and noted the concept of joining up with other students’ unions is “a bit of a challenge” given UCDSU’s lack of stance.
Despite not being affiliated with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), Viscardi received a letter from Annie Hoey, President of USI, which invited UCDSU to attend the national march against student fees held on Wednesday, 19th October. UCDSU participated in the vein of “an external youth organisation.” Viscardi said all the other students’ unions at the march were asking for free fees, unlike UCDSU, which only attended to highlight “the cuts in the education sector.” He stated there had been no indication of any further collaboration with USI, but if any mass demonstration were to be held, UCDSU would be present.
Regarding the issue on campus, Viscardi said that when they had put up an item for discussion on fees at the first Union Council of the year, a “lively debate” occurred with students arguing points for different funding models. He said the discussions held during Union Council would be a “good step in establishing a stance” which could be built upon in the future.
Viscardi said the main reason UCDSU is taking such a proactive stance on third-level fees this year is due to it being a topical issue. Previously, UCDSU issued a pre-budget submission calling on the government to increase core state funding by €168 million; to include €100 million to restore funding to 2008 levels, and a further €68 million to which would help reduce the student charge.
Last month, Professor Deeks called on politicians to implement the Cassells Report in a joint statement with Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin. He has not publicly stated any preference on which funding model in the Report he prefers.
Cian Carton | News Editor