TCDSU Fees Consultation Process

This is a copy of the post to my Education Blog on education.tcdsu.org. It outlines the approach taken by TCDSU on the fees issue. You can find the original here.

This entry is to provide a little context to the TCDSU consultation process on fees which will be taking place over the coming months. Much of it stems from a recent debate that I took part in which was run by The Hist, and the entry will cover the following:

  • The old mandate, and how SU policy works in general
  • The consultation process itself – logistics
  • The participation of the SU in the USI “Stop fees, save the grant campaign”
  • The consultation process – issues that must be taken into account when formulating policy

I should point out that at no point am I personally endorsing any particular policy in this blog, whether it be an anti-fees stance or any other ideological stance. As an elected officer, I am guided by SU policy. As there is no policy currently in place, I am unable to advocate for or against any outcome in the process. However, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that students are properly informed when engaging in the process.

To that end, I urge you all to participate in the first stages of the consultation process by taking part in the Student Survey, which will be released in next week’s SU email, and by attending the first town hall meeting which will take place on

Wednesday 30th November, 7pm, Joly Theatre (Hamilton)

I believe the debate must be had. Times have changed, so we need to see whether opinions have changed. TCDSU is the representative organisation of students in this college. However, we are also the defenders of the most vulnerable students, and any policy that we come up with must bear these two facts in mind. We are ready to listen – we hope you are ready to give your opinions.

See you at the meeting,

Rachel
___________________________________________

THE OLD MANDATE, AND HOW SU POLICY WORKS IN GENERAL

Mandated policy can be set at SU Council by the passing of motions on ay subject relevent to the aims and principles of the Union. These mandates can ensure that elected officers of the Union take certain actions, whether it be for the Education Officer to campaign against library opening hours or for the Irish Officer to set up an Irish Conversation Room. Whilst any member of the Union attend Council and may speak for or against a motion, only elected members of the Union (e.g. Class Reps) can vote.

Mandates expire at the end of the second full academic year following the year of adoption, and so this year the mandate on fees (set out below) ran out. Therefore the SU has an opportunity to revisit the issue without going to the expense of a referendum. By reviewing the position by mandate, the SU also ensures that there is opportunity to review this policy after 2 years, rather than binding future students to policies that are simply outdated. Policy can be renewed however by a simple majority vote.

Expired SU Mandate on Fees (2008/09)

Council believes: Education is a right, not a privilege.

Council notes: Straight fees, backdoor fees, deferred loans, graduate taxes, bloated registration feesand tiered fees systems all create barriers to education for Irish school leavers.

Council further notes: Third level education is a public service which should be fully publicly funded through taxation. Access to third level education should be a government priority.

Council therefore mandates: The Students’ Union to oppose the reintroduction of third-level fees under any guise.

 Proposed by: Hugh Sullivan, Education Officer

Seconded by: Cathal Reilly, President

THE CONSULTATION PROCESS ITSELF: LOGISTICS

The Consultation Process will comprise of numerous methods of extracting student of opinion, starting with

  • Student Survey: 27th November
  • Town Hall Meeting: 30th November

and continuing with various other methods over the course of the year. The process clearly needs to be as representative as possible, taking into account the opinions of those who might not be active in the SU/societies/student journalism/social networking sights as well as those who are.

To this end, it was necessary to have the consultation process as a separate issue to supporting the “Stop Fees, Save the Grant Campaign”, as the timing of the national protest on November 16th left no time for a full consultation. First SU Council took place on the 18th October, and any position to be implemented would have had to be passed at Second SU Council on 1st November – a mere two weeks later. Any ability to hold an emergency council was scuppered by the fact that reading week was the week of 7th-13th November. It was considered that the Union would not be acting in the best interests of students by having a consultation process for long term policy in such a short period of time, so it was agreed to take the aspects of supporting the USI campaign in the short term and enacting policy the SU could stand behind in the long term separately.

THE PARTICIPATION OF THE SU IN THE “STOP FEES, SAVE THE GRANT” CAMPAIGN

Of course, a fees consultation process based on the fact that SU policy has run out on the matter begs the question – why did the SU participate in the recent USI protest?

In fact, the SU did receive a mandate on the USI campaign at the November 1st Council, in the form of an emergency motion arising from a discussion, to support the “Stop Fees, Save the Grant Campaign” and for all elected members of the Union to attend the protest. This was after it was noted that the Union would participate in a full consultation process on a long term policy on fees.

At the same time however, it is also important to recognise that there is also a difference between a short term reaction to the propositions on the table and a long term consultation process leading to policy. The fact at the matter is that the propositions on the table at the time of the protest were not a student loan system (which was ruled out by the IMF), not a graduate tax (ruled out by Minister Quinn). Quite simply, the only proposal that was left on the table by the Minister was an increase in the upfront Student Contribution Charge at the same time as cutting the basic supports needed for those most vulnerable to access college. Had the TCDSU fees policy been anti-fees or pro-student loans or pro-graduate tax, the outcome would still have been to protest government measures, as these options were not on the table at the time. Whilst there are many different opinions on what is the best solution, the one issue that remains at the heart of all proposed solutions is that access to education is paramount. This, in my personal opinion, was the motive behind supporting the campaign.

How we got to the situation where these measures were the only ones on the table is, to a certain extent, immaterial – we are in a position where we have to react to these propositions before the budget falls. In the long term, it is our responsibility to take steps to make sure that students are in a position to negotiate for the best deal that they can get. This is the motivation behind the consultation process of a new policy on fees.

THE CONSULTATION PROCESS: ISSUES THAT MUST BE TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT WHEN FORMULATING POLICY

These are a few facts that, as a sabbatical officer, come up time and again and should be taken into account when having this debate. Again, it should be noted that these issues are being set out in a factual way and not advocating any particular approach(e.g. point one could be used to advocate an anti-fees stance, or a pro fees with an increased grant system stance)

  1. Current experiences of students: We have to think of all students of TCD. Whilst many can afford a decent lifestyle in college, others are living on the breadline. E.g. 1 student having eaten only cereal for 2 weeks, 1 student sleeping in his car, many students coming into Sabbatical Officers breaking down because they are unable to pay the current student contribution charge, let alone an increased one
  2. You can find the costs of an undergrad or postgrad degree in TCD here:http://www.tcd.ie/Treasurers_Office/fees/fees_coursefees.php
  3. The Student Contribution Charge is not automatically paid in 2 installments, unlike in other institutions. Students may apply to split it on a means tested basis.
  4. The grant can be a valuable support mechanism, but the system can also be quite arbitrary. You can find a poster explaining how the grant works here on our facebook page http://on.fb.me/tnpNUw. There’s a lot of information on it, but I might give one (real life) example: If you are earning €22,730 or less, you are entitled to the special rate. The next band is set at €41, 110 if there are under 4 kids in a family. So if you are earning 200 euro over the lowest band, you are treated exactly the same as a person earning 18,000 over the lowest band. The difference between your grant can be as much as €3000. The Provost, when asked in the last town hall meeting how he could square the circle of raising fees and maintaining access to college answered with ‘the grant’. It’s quite clear that the grant system as it stands is not sufficient to plug gaps in funding.
  5. One of the reasons that the Provost and many other College Presidents (Michael Murphy, President of UCC) supports the introduction of fees is to increase funding for college. It should be noted that this will only happen if the government reinvests the money in higher education. In the past, this has not happened. The core grant given to college has reduced in direct proportion to the increase in tuition fees.
  6. The basic value of a degree has increased since the last recession. The concept of working your way up has disappeared. Many jobs now require at least an undergraduate degree, from the hospitality industry to the retail industry, and it is a truth that no matter how much experience a candidate has, a glass ceiling exists over how far they can go if they don’t have an undergraduate degree.

I’d also like to briefly comment on a couple of alternative positions. Again, this is not to advocate for or against these, or shoot them down as possible solutions, but we should bear a couple of things in mind.

  1. Student Loan System/Better funded grant system: We should bear in mind that we simply don’t have the capital to introduce one at the moment. The UK introduced their loan system at a time of economic prosperity. If we wanted to introduce this system, it would take a huge amount of time (Quinn puts it at around 10-15 years) of students paying full fees without increased supports in order to fund it. This risks creating a lost generation of students unable to go to college. It also of course rests on the assumption that the fees would go directly back into higher education and the funding of a loan system/better grants system, as opposed to reducing Ireland’s deficit.
    Graduate Tax: This essentially works by providing a grant + fees, with the graduate paying around 3% back in taxes. FF worked out that it would take around 17 years to start paying for itself, which was one of the main reasons why it was ruled out, along with the bad debt experienced by Australia. We can see that bad debt is a real worry for TCD in particular, as they don’t allow the student contribution charge to be paid in two installments.
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