Policy referendum to extend the Student Centre Levy

The Student Centre levy is a €254 fee that students are required to pay yearly in addition to the contribution fee. Unlike the contribution fee, however, the Student Centre levy is not covered by the SUSI grant that some students are awarded to assist in paying third level fees.

Captain of the UCD Rowing Club, Max Murphy is leading the ‘Yes’ campaign to extend the levy, as after a spending in year of his undergraduate degree in New Zealand, it made him “grateful for the facilities UCD has offered...as they are arguably as good, and in places better than a lot of Universities in New Zealand, but I don’t think that means we should stop here and sit on what we have.”

Believing that the levy “is not an insignificant amount of money on top of our fees...I think I could say very confidently that what I have gained in return for paying that levy, far outweighs its actual cost,” Murphy is confident that the levy will provide funding for the expansion student centre and surrounding sports facilities, including the gym and pitches.

At a “Town Hall” style meeting of Student Union council held in November 2018, a proposal to expand the student centre was brought to the floor for discussion by staff members of Student Services in UCD. The proposal outlined the addition office space for societies which do not currently have a room along the societies’ corridor, communal space for society events, meditation and relaxation spaces, a charging hub and rehearsal spaces which could accommodate DanceSoc and the Musical Society.

During the Town Hall meeting, members of council expressed their hesitation over committing to an increase in the levy, due to a lack of details over where the funding would go, what would be prioritised and how much the expansion plan would cost in total. UCDSU Welfare Officer Melissa Plunkett told council that students were promised free access to the pool, when the levy was originally brought to students to pay for the mortgage on the construction of the Student Centre in 2006. According to Captain Murphy, the mortgage is due to be repaid in 2023.

UCDSU President Barry Murphy has said that the Student Services “are putting pressure on us to support this”. He stated that “if we take a stance, it will affect other things.” In a meeting of the sports club captains held on Monday 4th March, a document on the Student Centre levy policy was distributed, in which the conditions for the extension of the levy was discussed.

The conditions attached to a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum state that the said levy be payable until such time as the mortgage on the property is paid, and the period of the mortgage is not to exceed 20 years. Also included with the levy is the condition that “operational inflation” may be increased “only by consent of student representative leadership”, meaning that the Student Centre levy may be increased from year to year, at the behest of the UCDSU President to meet mortgage repayments or to prioritise a centre aspect of the expansion plan i.e. soccer pitches.

Captain Murphy has said that this model of funding the expansion plan was proposed because “This funding method has worked very well for Students from what I can see. It has provided incredible facilities for us and support for clubs, societies and the SU...Many other Irish Universities either currently have levies or are in the process of having votes to implement them.”

UCDSU President Murphy, Welfare Officer Melissa Plunkett and Education Officer Stephen Crosby are said to be taking annual leave to aid in the ‘No’ campaign. President Murphy has previously stated “that the Union should push for things that benefit the most students and that are the least expensive”, giving the example of the indoor sports hub as a proposal which would benefit a limited number of students.

Captain Murphy is unclear as to what will be the result if a ‘No’ vote is successful in the referendum. Murphy shared what he believed to be likely scenarios at the meeting with sports club captains in March. Among them are gym membership to increase to approximately €300 per student, zero funding for sports clubs and societies no longer supported.

The University Observer has previously reported on the legitimacy of these claims, where in an interview, President Murphy debunked them stating “there was threats or comments included in that description of what could be cut, that simply can’t be affected...Sports scholarships for athletes are ring-fenced through the UCD Foundation and Ad Astra, so they could not be affected by the levy. The levy currently doesn’t fund them. Student societies staff are civil servants and cannot be made redundant.” Captain Murphy later clarified that given the annual deficit from the operations costs would cause the many services to “ultimately be under review.”