Writes Samantha Calthrop, News Editor
It was announced yesterday that the capitation fee for incoming first-years at UCC is set to rise by €200.The fee is to be gradually raised each year, with the first raise from €170 to €250 being implemented for incoming first years in 2019. The fee is to increase by €40 each subsequent year, until it reaches €370 in 2023.
When asked to comment, UCC gave a statement pointing to the increased need for funding of student services. “In particular mental health services, such as counselling and support, student health services, the student assistance fund and sport and recreations facilities, have all seen increased demand. This increased fee will go directly back into student services. UCC’s capitation fee has historically been among the lowest in Ireland’s higher education system….UCC has been consistently working with its Students Union on this issue and will continue to work together with its students to ensure student services are supported.”
The lack of state funding has been a contentious issue for universities on all fronts, with low investment being opposed by students and teaching staff alike. The #SaveOurSpark campaign, an initiative calling for increased funding to universities, is just one movement pointing to lowered investment in teaching and student support; funding per student has dropped by 50% since the economic recession in 2008. The capitation fee is not covered under the SUSI grant scheme, meaning that all incoming students will be obligated to pay, including those from low-income backgrounds.
The decision has been criticised by the UCC Students Union (UCCSU), who opposed the fee increase and had called for a referendum prior to the announcement. “When we look around the country to see what other Universities are doing, it is obvious that while they may have increased their fees in recent years they did so by holding a referendum for students to decide on whether or not the increase should go ahead,” a statement by the UCCSU reads, “This is extremely disheartening to see and there is still a risk that it can be increased again in the future, as there are no measures in place to stop it from going up another €200 in 3 years’ time again.”
The UCCSU pointed to the 10% increase in the cost of campus accommodation also imposed upon students this year. The cost of campus accommodation has increased by almost €1000 since 2016/17. Since the fee increase only affects incoming first-year students, current students do not need to be consulted via referendum for this increase to take place.
When asked if the UCCSU was appropriately listened to, UCCSU president Alan Hayes said, “The SU told the university that we couldn’t support it and were completely against it especially because the SU are mandated to campaign for publicly funded education (…) I would agree that the SU were communicated with but we did not receive the final document that was sent to the University Management Team outlining exactly what was going to happen. Therefore, I would not say we were consulted.”
Similarly, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) were “very concerned” to hear of the capitation fee increase. “We are deeply worried that such a decision was taken by the University Management without students having the opportunity to vote on the issue,” said USI President-Elect Lorna Fitzpatrick, speaking to the Express. “Students and their families are already struggling financially and this increase will place a further strain on them.”
Ms Fitzpatrick added, “We believe this is part of a larger issue facing tertiary education. In March, students and staff joined together to call on the Government to commit to investing in a sustainable funding model for tertiary education through the #FundTheFuture Campaign.”
“Students should not be used to fill the gap that has been created by a lack of action from the
Government.” Students have met the news with great scepticism, with much suspicion of how and why it was implemented, particularly following many delays and extra costs incurred in building the 15-million-euro student hub just this year.
When asked about the UCCSU’s plans for the future in this regard, Mr Hayes said, “The SU plan to keep our students informed on the situation and mobilize them to have the student voice heard…. I’m sure students will have something to say in the months to come.” In the press release following the announcement, he remarked, “I understand the college’s rationale, I know there is a lack of state funding for services, but I feel the students are being seen as an easy target.”
Check out the latest edition of the Express here – https://uccexpress.ie/latest-issue/