UCDSU propose single-use plastic levy to fund expansion in student supports, mental health resources

In their pre-budget submission to the Department of Finance, UCD Students’ Union have called on the government to allocate almost €370 million towards investment in the higher education sector. Included in the submission are proposals to restructure the SUSI grant system by restoring the threshold and allocation to pre-2011 levels, to commit to annual increases which “reflect the cost of living”, and to decrease the distance for the ‘non-adjacent rate’ from 45km to 24km. UCDSU have also recommended that €100,000 be spent “per bed space, excluding land costs” to alleviate the “excess demand” of purpose built student accommodation. The submission, entitled 'Education for All', also contains a recommendation to reduce the annual Student Contribution Charge by “a minimum of €500”, stating that it is “astronomically high by European standards." UCDSU note that the Student Contribution Charge “is the only cost of attending third-level that can be directly addressed in the Budget." The Union recommended that €36.8 million would be required to reduce the charge. UCDSU’s submission advocates for €55 million to be allocated to fund mental services in universities, a further €6 million to counselling, €1.5 million to a student assistance fund, €120 million to childcare places, €40 million towards postgraduate student grants. Additional proposals include a commitment by the government to provide 80% of the entry level rate of pay to student teachers during their placement, as well as extending the same student supports to part-time students, that are currently available to full-time students. To offset the cost of the proposed funding increase, the Union have called for a 25c levy on “disposable coffee/tea cups." The Union estimates that this will raise approximately €60 million. Additionally, a rise in the applied rate of carbon tax is suggested “as a means of addressing failures in Ireland’s climate change commitments and generating further revenue."This is estimated to bring in €180 million in revenue. In a statement released today, UCDSU said that they are “highlighting” the overall improved economic situation in Ireland and, “despite economic growth, falling unemployment and continued job creation that the benefit from these improvements is not felt by the majority of students in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).” “The past year has been marked by economic growth, falling unemployment and continued job creation. However, it is clear to the UCDSU Executive Team that the benefit from these improvements is not felt by most students in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).” “Current deficits in public services and infrastructure, including accommodation, higher education funding and mental health facilities do not provide a healthy environment for the growing cohort of students to study, live and thrive in.” The Union’s submission for more third level investment comes as Ibec, Ireland’s largest employer’s union, also called on the government to provide more targeted investment to the country’s universities. In their submission, Ibec advised that the government abandon plans to create a ‘rainy-day fund’ and instead use available funds to improve the quality of Ireland’s higher level institutes. Ibec’s Director, Fergal O’Brien, stated that Ireland has “a window of opportunity with the economy performing well, and we still have this money flowing in from the multinational sector in corporate tax, but we need to be reinvesting to support education and to support the indigenous enterprise sector." The pre-budget submission is also released in the wake of Director General of the Irish Universities Association Jim Miley’s call for increased university investment. Writing in the University Observer last week, Miley stated that it has been “almost three years” since the publication of the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding of Higher Education and that “political inaction since has surpassed many previous ‘dust-gathering on a shelf’ records.”