SU Presidents to oppose amendment to Universities Act

UCD Students’ Union President Rachel Breslin has come together with the SU Presidents of the other Irish universities to oppose the ‘Arrangement of Heads’ of the Universities (Amendment) Bill 2012.The Heads of the Bill call for an increase in the power given to the Minister for Education and the Department of Education when it comes to determining pay, remuneration and staff levels. Breslin feels this affords the Minister more power than is necessary and that it infringes on the University’s autonomy. She commented that: “By taking the power out of the university and the autonomy away from the university and giving it to a minister who is not involved in the day to day running and not involved in the sector particularly, and who can be influenced by populist choices and who can come under pressure from the media, then it is taking a core function of the university, which is to run itself.”Roughly 80% of the University’s budget is pent on pay and remuneration, so this is an important aspect of how the University decides to run itself. Breslin however fears that should this power be granted to the Minister, they may also cross lines in terms of interference with the University’s running. She fears that provisions that allow the Minister to withdraw funding from certain universities or even certain departments within certain universities, could mean that we’ll see departments shutting down without the adequate staff to keep them running.She says: “It could have wide ranging repercussions. Though I do feel that there needs to be action following on from the scandals and the massive overspending both in UCD and other areas on wages, but that an enforcement issue rather than this issue on determining pay and this Bill doesn’t really address those issues at all.”Having spoken to other Students’ Union Presidents across the country, they plan to “take an action and publicly state that this isn’t a bill that Students’ Unions feel would help the quality of our education or the efficiency of running of universities. We intend on publicly making sure all stakeholders from the university to the government to the public and the media are aware of that.”The University are also in opposition to the Bill, with Breslin commenting that: “I think the University are likewise worried about taking this autonomy away from the management team.”The Bill put forward by Minister Ruairi Quinn has taken all parties by surprise. Though it was previously known that a Bill was being pushed through to deal with the issues of overspending on pay and bonuses, as has happened in recent years. However Breslin states: This Bill doesn’t tackle these issues at all. It’s much wider in the powers it does give, but narrow in that it doesn’t actually address that issue.”The Union of Students in Ireland will not be taking part in the action planned by the Students’ Unions' Presidents, as following a discussion with USI, Breslin felt that “because there are two universities that aren’t in the USI, that it would be something that it would be good for us to, as universities, address it as one statement and one voice.”