CON:UCD students voted to disaffiliate from USI in 2013, just three years ago. At the time, UCDSU was in financial turmoil, and a majority of students felt they weren’t seeing enough results from membership of USI to justify the expenditure during a crisis. Three years on, UCDSU is in a much better financial position; but this time, UCD voters recognise exactly what can be achieved with the money which could be spent on USI membership.The value of some of the work done by USI cannot be denied. Their voter registration drive ahead of the Marriage Equality referendum brought young people to politics in a way that little else has done in recent years. They sit at the important tables, from the HEA to SUSI. But the fact remains that whether UCD is a member or not, USI will continue to sit at those tables. By remaining disaffiliated, UCDSU can continue to follow UCD specific interests, while USI pursues national goals.The major issue, however, is that USI have done very little in way of implementing actual change in the past number of years that could justify the cost of joining. Although one of their major selling points is that they say they provide students with a national voice. In spite of their lobbying on fees and accommodation, the cost of both has continued to rise for years now. We have all seen the posters for the consent campaign run by USI plastered across Dublin this year. But what difference have campaigns such as this made to UCD students, or even USI member students? The fact is: very little. It was UCDSU’s slutwalk as part of their own separate campaign on sexual consent that got the national media involved back in November, and which began the real national conversation around consent. There can be very little point in spending a large sum of money on rejoining a largely ineffective body.
"The major issue however that USI have done very little in the way of implementing actual change in the past number of years that could justify the cost of joining."Although we see their campaigns, we can’t even know exactly how the €90,000 that USI would potentially get from UCD membership would be spent, as their accounts have not been openly available since 2013 (USI accounts are made available to member unions only). USI have not made any public statements about any additional campaigns or work they would be able to do with the extra revenue if UCD were to reaffiliate.The INMO has been quick to defend USI in recent days regarding the work they did in securing minimum wage for nursing and midwifery students on placement. However, UCD nursing and midwifery students will benefit from this higher wage just as much as USI member universities will. USI aided in the discussions, and UCDSU also played its part, but not being a member of USI didn’t make any difference to the results of the negotiations for UCD students. There is little point in joining a union that will continue to do the same things whether we pay for it or not. There are few other initiatives by USI that UCD students or others will notice if they continue as quietly as they have done this year, and there are no signs of change on the way.The additional revenue from UCD students will likely make little difference to the campaigns that USI run. UCD’s issues are no different to those of students in other universities; those of the continuing accommodation crisis, university fees, and access to mental health treatment. USI will run campaigns on these issues whether UCD is a member or not. But UCDSU will also (hopefully) continue to run campaigns on these issues. The fact that there are at least two separate bodies campaigning for student issues (three including the SU of the University of Limerick, which hasn’t been affiliated to USI since 1991), and the fact that UCD has the largest number of students in Ireland, makes the student position stronger nationally. Membership of USI can only weaken UCD’s position, as well as that of university students in Ireland; as it is, we have the largest number of students in Ireland, and are a separate body. As a member of USI, we are reduced to merely being one Students’ Union among a multitude.USI membership can make a difference to individual cases; access to SUSI, for instance, is largely held by the USI, and it takes longer for UCD SU to gain access to them. Though it does take longer however, UCD does have access to SUSI. Faster access to SUSI and similar bodies simply is not worth an extra €90,000 per year from UCD’s students.Many of those who are in favour of rejoining USI will say that the reason they wish to reaffiliate is that UCD Students’ Union has failed to adequately represent students by themselves. But the failures or successes of each successive Students’ Union should not affect our decision. The SU team will change year in, year out; we need to look at the benefits of joining the USI as a long term decision, rather than one we will change our minds on with every successive sabbatical team. As a long term decision, UCDSU can do better by itself, with a focus on UCD-specific issues. €90,000 is too much to spend on a national voice, but especially so if that national voice isn’t being listened to. UCD SU has its own strong voice, and will continue to do so without USI. RebuttalBeing a member of USI allows our SU officers to focus on campus issues and campaigns, without having to also advocate for the university nationally. Having a union focused solely on general student issues allows each local union to offer the best possible experience to the students in that college. USI can advocate for lower fees and accommodation while the UCDSU education officer can put more effort into the individual cases they have to deal with. Instead of liaising with SUSI directly, he or she can allow USI to negotiate for all students, while then investing more into each student that approaches them.USI does some phenomenal work, such as campaigning to increase the minimum wage for student nurses and midwives. We cannot simply expect to reap the benefits of work like this without being a member. USI is funded by its member organisations and if UCD were to benefit from their campaigns, students in other universities across the country are paying for our rewards. Is an extra €5 per full time student really too much to contribute to something that all students would benefit from?While fees and accommodation have not significantly decreased in recent years, a large part of this can be put down to the ongoing economic crisis and recent government policy. The latest general election saw the last government decimated. This gives students the perfect opportunity to now push for the changes that they want and that have not been instituted in the last 5 years.