Should We “Take Back” UCD?

Benjamin Jordan wonders if UCD students should follow Trinity’s example and protest exorbitant repeat fees.

Recently there was a meeting in the Trinity Arts Block, held by activists involved in the Take Back Trinity movement. The discourse of the meeting followed the lines of how to move on from the dining hall occupation, and how to escalate from here. The capacity of these students to organise themselves, the sheer strength in numbers, and their genuine belief in the idea that they can win this battle against their administration is both heartening and aspirational.

UCD students are the victims of a cash cow culture where the university is only too happy to profit from young people who already struggle to balance college and work

A slogan of their campaign has been bellowed out and chanted by Trinity students at their protests: “Paddy in your ivory tower, this is called people power,” a reference to TCD Provost Patrick Prendergast’s recent renovation of his personal penthouse residence paid for by college funds. This sounds remarkably similar to recent renovations of UCD President Andrew Deeks’ residence, which cost the University €300,000. Deeks, perhaps unsurprisingly, wrote in the Irish Times on January 22nd that “universities need less regulation and more autonomy.”

As it stands, UCD students are the victims of a cash cow culture where the university is only too happy to profit from young people who already struggle to balance college and work, in most cases working for not much more than minimum wage. The conditions of students are not a concern to those at the top levels of university management, proven in the case of a new construction site beside O’Reilly Hall. This new alumni club facility which is currently being built will not be open for student access, highlighting a culture in UCD where management prioritise the shiny public image of the university over looking after the welfare of their students.

We cannot let the university management “get on with the job;” that would only serve to further enable the profiteering which is already underway

The Student Centre Levy, as was recently reported by the University Observer, has cost students over €43 million since 2006. This is to cover the cost of the construction of the building. It is supposed to be an index-linked levy, yet has only increased since its introduction. The reality of university life, particularly of students who work in precarious jobs, is that people fail exams. In the 2016/2017 academic year, almost 4000 students failed one module and out of this 2096 failed more than one module. This can be down to a variety of personal circumstances or inability to make it to the exam hall. In that year, UCD received at least three-quarters of a million euro in exam repeat and resit fees. How is it legitimately acceptable that the university can charge an extortionate €230 per module, and then cap grades at a D, meaning your GPA is going to suffer no matter how much you pay?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. EU students get a guarantee that their fees will remain the same upon entry to the university. Fees for non-EU students are not fixed, meaning they can rise year on year, with many students paying in excess of €40,000. Post-graduate fees put a strangle hold on more mature students, many of whom have mouths to feed at home. Years of austerity and staffing cuts in the library, in administrative staff, in counseling staff are coming back to haunt us. Students with mental health issues are waiting weeks to be seen by a counselor. The UCD experience is regressive. It is too expensive, and it hits working students harder. Yet, Deeks wrote in his aforementioned Irish Times article: “let us get on with the job, and we will be able to serve our students and our society all the more effectively for it.”

With the University Management Team due to come to a decision on resit and repeat fees at the end of March, an organised student body must be ready

With the University Management Team due to come to a decision on resit and repeat fees at the end of March, an organised student body must be ready. We cannot let the university management “get on with the job;” that would only serve to further enable the profiteering which is already underway. It is up to the students to get together and organise. We have seen a magnificent grassroots movement in Trinity and the college board there is getting scared, with threats to replace EU student places with non-EU student places to increase revenue. Yes, if we organise ourselves, and protest; we can expect backlash. However, we have a right to afford to go to university whether we glide through with ease or come across bumps along the way.