UCD Free Education for Everyone (FEE) have voiced their indignation following UCD Students’ Union President, Pat de Brún, announcing his intention of putting a motion to SU Council regarding the Union’s stance on free education.
Should the referendum pass, the SU would be mandated to represent the majority’s views. National Treasurer of FEE, Suzanne Lee, has stated that “this coming semester, I can’t imagine that the two of us are going to see eye to eye.”
Last semester, Dublin City University (DCU) held a similar referendum, in which students voted overwhelmingly in favour of free fees. Because the referendum was conducted without provision for the transfer of votes it was found to be in breach of DCU SU’s constitution and as a result the mandate was declared void. Loan schemes, full fees and graduate taxes were amongst the alternative methods of funding for education that students had the option of voting for.
Lee acknowledged that another increase in fees was probable, “I would say they will [rise]. When all the government is getting is one march a year they know they can do what they like. For a while there was a little wave of occupations and now there seems to be no mention of anyone doing anything, which is a bit worrying.”
President of USI, Gary Redmond, echoed Lee’s sentiments, “obviously we’re in a very difficult financial position at the moment. In the short term I don’t see fees being abolished because of the fiscal situation that we’re in. I think we have a Minister for Education who is committed, if he could, to abolishing fees in the morning but I don’t think he could even if he wanted to.”
De Brún defended his decision, stating, “I one hundred per cent believe in free education as the best model for third level funding and that it should come through progressive taxation … at the same time, that has been our policy for a number of years and even though we’ve campaigned, and campaigned very well I believe, for each of the last number of years we have still seen successive increases in the Student Contribution [Charge].”
“Whatever the Union’s policy is, as decided by students, we would do everything we can to lobby the government and fight against any increases, but at the same time I think it’s time we look at the various different funding options that are on the table.”
Should a referendum take place and reverse UCD SU’s policy, a motion can be put forward at the next USI congress to have USI’s overall policy altered. The next congress is scheduled to happen in April.