Selling ourselves to the highest bidder

 
 

Coca-Cola and its products such as Fanta and Sprite are once again to be removed from the shelves of Students’ Union shops, a move that has been deemed necessary for funding reasons rather than political.

With demand for longer library opening hours, as well as increasing calls for a lower registration fee and the elimination of health care charges, it is hardly surprising that the university income sought a legitimate and fast means of obtaining it. This has led to UCD effectively selling the campus to Britvic Ireland.

The recently negotiated deal will see that only Britvic products, with exception of Red Bull, will be sold in all shops, including Students’ Union outlets.

This decision was made in spite of the SU referendum held last March, in which 52 per cent of students voted to bring Coca-Cola and its subsidiary products back to the shelves of the SU shops.

This referendum had a formal ‘No’ campaign, which included 40 posters and 1,000 flyers, and no formal ‘Yes’ agent. This ‘No’ campaign, though significantly smaller than the campaigns of the sabbatical candidates that year, required much effort, time and money. All of this could now be deemed a complete waste of time.

While it is understandable for the university to have its own prerogative, especially given the severity of its debts. However, it has to asked if the efforts and opinions of students are being taken into account.

A portion of the now semesterised registration fee goes to the SU. While the money is used for a variety of different causes, part of it is used for the various annual elections and referenda.

Was this referendum just another waste of students’ money on behalf of our SU? No – it was necessary step taken to review a policy that had been put in place by students who are no longer in UCD. The outcome of the referendum was that students were no longer morally opposed to the selling of Coca-Cola in shops, which meant that it could be re-introduced.

The ban had initially been put in place in 2003 by the SU following accusations against the Columbian branch of Coca-Cola in playing a role in the murders of several of its employees that were trade union members.

For the past few years, despite it not being available in SU shops, Coca-Cola has still been available to students on campus – in vending machines, shops and restaurants. However, with the new ban in place, Coca-Cola is no longer for sale anywhere on campus.

While the SU decided to boycott Coca-Cola and its products for the past seven years, the university chose to supply Coca-Cola in other outlets. However, now that the boycott has been lifted and the SU has decided to actively re-introduce the products, the university, knowing this, put the “vending out to tender”, according to a university spokesperson.

As innovative as the idea is, there remains that lingering fear that this is simply an attempt to commercialise our university. Is any deal that brings in money now to be deemed acceptable? Is our university’s name being sold to the highest bidder? Are we a commodity up for sale? These questions can only be answered once we see the next major step our university is willing to take in its effort to secure funding, which is supposedly for our benefit.

The exclusivity deal that is now in place is, undoubtedly, an effective method to secure a substantial amount of money. This type of contract is one that is more common in American universities, but it will probably become more widespread in Ireland as universities across the country look for new methods to secure funding.

While the removal of Coca-Cola products from campus narrows down choices for students, it would be an exaggeration to say that the lack of availability of the drink and its subsidiaries will have much negative impact on them. However, what UCD is going to do with the money procured from the deal and whether it will have been worth having to go off campus for our fix of Coca-Cola remains to be seen.

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