H2H: Should UCD reduce fees for this year in response to the lack of time spent on campus?

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

Head-to-Head: Should UCD reduce fees for this year in response to the lack of time spent on campus?

Yes: Garret KennedyNo: Colm Cooney

The argument for lowering fees for this year is reasonably straightforward. The amount of money one pays for a good or service is proportionate to how much utility one gets from that good or service. Most people will pay more for a burger from Bunsen than McDonald’s because it is a nicer burger.  

Last year UCD students were paying €3,000 in fees for in person classes and access to a range of buildings and services. Given that they are no longer receiving these things to the same extent, it seems entirely logical that the price should decrease proportionately. What that specifically entails is complicated, but it seems reasonable to say that some amount of the fees should be cut to some extent. 

The most obvious cut to begin with is the student centre levy. There can surely be no justification for charging this year’s students the same €254 student centre levy when most of them are unlikely to be able to use the student centre’s amenities for vast swathes of the year. There is still lots of uncertainty around how clubs and societies will be run but students will certainly have far less access to sports facilities and society events than in previous years. The amount of money they pay for this access should therefore be smaller. 

The rest of the fees are trickier and more complicated. However, the basic principle that students are paying the same amount but getting less for their money still holds, even if it is less egregious than with the student centre levy. One simply does not get the same standard of education through a zoom call. Nor will students have the same access to the library as they would in a standard semester. 

Furthermore, many more students are struggling financially than in a normal year. Lots of students pay for their fees or rent by working full time over the summer. However, this year these jobs were far harder to come by and most of these students were probably ineligible for the full Covid-19 payment because they were only working part time when the pandemic started. This means that they have far less money than they would at the beginning of a normal college year. Forcing these people to pay the standard fees when they are struggling because of circumstances outside their control seems particularly unfair. 

My opponent will argue about UCD’s funding problems. Of course, this is a serious concern but this is not the fault of the students. Furthermore, maintaining the current price of fees barely keeps the universities afloat anyway. The government simply needs to start funding third level properly. In 2008/09 UCD got nearly €9,000 from the government for each student. By 2019 that number had fallen to €5,000 per student and the number of students is only going up. 

This problem will not be solved until the government decides to make third level education a financial priority. The €254 student centre levy is a drop in the ocean in combating this. Until Paschal Donohoe gets his chequebook out universities will continue to drown slowly and punishing students in the meantime is simply unfair and largely unhelpful. 

The argument for maintaining the level of fees also ignores the public benefits of a university education. There are several reasons the Irish government funds third level institutions and the private benefits to the recipients of the degrees is only one of them. The main reason the government can justify using other people’s taxes to pay for student’s education is that everyone benefits from living in a society with lots of well-educated people. The most obvious public benefits are economic; better educated people are more likely to earn more and therefore pay more in tax. However, it also has myriad other societal benefits such as decreasing crime, increased innovation, and more informed voters. 

We have placed the burden of funding third level education on the students for far too long and it has shown itself to be unsustainable. Continuing this in such perilous times is bad for students because they are paying more than they should be for far less than they deserve. It also does nothing to solve the fundamental causes of third level’s lack of funding, it simply shifts the blame away from politicians. 


You can see why some people are seeking refunds, or partial refunds for the coming college year. The long-term impacts of coronavirus are starting to hit home. Financial difficulties for students, for families, and the perceived lack of face-to-face time for students would seem to point towards the conclusion that UCD should cancel all fees for the coming year, right? 

It does seem like many students have turned this question from an objective one to a moral one. Some people have even called for UCD to provide free laptops to all students because there’s less lectures and because we can’t use the library. In that case, can we get a free Nespresso machine too because we won’t be able to get the coffee after an 11am lecture in Newman? Some seem to have lost sight of what colleges are there to do.

So how much do we actually pay in fees? As an Irish student who is lucky enough to live in Dublin, it’s typically €3254 a year, made up of €254 for the Student Centre Levy and €3000 as a student contribution charge. The former charge is self-explanatory, while the latter is quite vague. One would assume that the student contribution charge would pay for all things, from the wages of the lecturers to the heating oil used in the winter.

You see countless ‘activists’ moaning about the Student Centre Levy being lumped on top of the Student Contribution charge. Let’s not forget that it was democratically extended by a vote of 61%, if you didn’t vote, whose fault is that? The winning margin was almost 6 times greater than that of Brexit by percentage - the people have spoken!

We shouldn’t just still pay the Student Centre Levy, we should see it as vital in the current climate. Now more than ever, students need distractions, be it societies, sport, or other activities. The student centre offers world-class gym and pool facilities which are open presently, as well as offices for societies, equipment, and countless other facilities for students. I would urge all students to make use of them. Some seem to have selective memories and forget about the gym or the pool after the first week of each trimester.

Now to the €3000 question; the big fat student contribution charge. With UCD already projected losses of up to €100 million this year due in part to a sharp decrease in international students, it is hard to see how they can refund fees. One could always just not go to college. Some are deferring for a year, working instead, waiting to see the state of affairs in a years’ time. A bold decision that not many are making, but fortune tends to favor those people. Perhaps they may never go back to college, perhaps they never wanted to go in the first place, but they went because everyone else did, like everyone before them.

According to emails sent from UCD, we are apparently due about 30%-70% of normal classroom time. There is no getting around the fact that this is a noticeable reduction. We know Covid-19 thrives on social contact. The reduction in class time is to stop the spread and to facilitate more groups of smaller numbers. How much do UCD actually save by having online lectures? Well, one of the largest expenses is the wages for all the staff, from the cleaners to lecturers, IT staff to the President himself. The people that cry because they have to pay the Student Contribution Levy will be the same people crying when more ‘expendable’ staff like cleaners are furloughed or worse, laid off, because UCD can’t afford to pay them. Yet they would be the same ones cheering when they see the heads of the ‘fat-cats’ rolling. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

How will we reflect on the Coronavirus Pandemic? In a way, it’s a war against an invisible, indiscriminate and insidious enemy. And perhaps that is what makes it so frightening. It can be paralysing and relentless with the constant barrage of coverage, the 6pm updates every day, every aspect of our life affected, changed, maybe forever. People are still in denial. Humans need something to concentrate on. College can be a form of escapism. Make the most of life in UCD, after all, you’re paying for it.

Rebuttal: Garrett KennedyRebuttal: Colm Cooney

There are many good arguments against reducing fees in the current climate. Thankfully for my current purpose, my opponent ignored most of these.

Beginning with the Student Centre Levy - They claim that it is fine because it was voted for and that the ‘activists’ are just doing their standard thing. While this is no doubt a compelling argument, it seems strange to suggest that just because something has been democratically voted for it is inherently good, as proven by the Brexit vote they mention. 

My opponent next discusses the rest of the student's fees. They claim that students will have “30-70% of normal classroom time”. In other words, UCD students will get 30% of normal classroom time. This is obviously not an adequate substitute for the normal classes they would receive and as such they should not have to pay the same amount to do them. Also, it’s already been proven that a lot of students will have absolutely zero normal classroom time. 

Of course, they are correct that this is not significantly cheaper for the university to run. However, this does not diminish the fact that the quality of the classes offered will be lower and therefore students should not have to pay the same amount.

They also mention the funding crisis. I think I have engaged with this argument enough in my main piece. Basically, nothing significant will be solved until the government decides third level education is important enough to fund properly. Until then we are just punishing students for the government’s stinginess. 

The suggestion that students “could always just not go to college” is ignorant and elitist. The idea that it is acceptable for college to be inaccessible because of one’s income is a notion that is not worth engaging with.


My opponent’s argument seems to be quite a snobby one, comparing this coming years’ experience to that of a McDonalds burger, with it being lower quality than that of the previous years, which was apparently ‘Bunsen’ quality. Surely then UCD should be able to charge more than DIT as it is more internationally acclaimed? Alas both charge the same €3000 contribution charge. Perhaps there is an argument that UCD could be charging more? I ask my opponent if UCD last year was ‘Bunsen’ and is ‘McDonalds’ this year, what does that make DIT this year?

My opponent is highlighting plenty of problems, but not suggesting any solutions, apart from reducing fees because, sure UCD can “barely keep afloat” with current fees anyway. And asking Pascal Donohue to get out his cheque book, as we face the largest ever decline in GDP with serious underfunding in hospitals during a pandemic, what is more important to the public right now?

Most of the second half of the argument fails to address the topic laid out but focuses more on a general need to reduce fees. I cannot disagree with him here. They have outlined many benefits of education in general, which I would say apply more to second level education than third level education, yet have nothing to do with a reduction in fees due to less campus time in University.