by Samantha Calthrop
In protest against the announced 3% raise in rent on student accommodation, UCCSU have pledged to camp on the university quad until the rent increase is reversed. Joining them are a number of students, with approximately 80 overall having set up to sleep in a rotating schedule. The SU and the students have seen support from UCC staff, with 500 staff members adding their names to an open letter addressed to UCC President Patrick O’Shea, calling on him to meet the demands of the SU and of the students. A petition by UCC students has also reached over 2,300 signatures.
The protests have drawn considerable attention on account of the students’ determination in the face of adverse weather conditions, with strong winds and low temperatures on several days. In addition to the active protesting, a large number of students, many of whom are in exam weeks, have been voluntarily bringing supplies and supporting the cause throughout the cold nights.
“The increase is not something we can support in any capacity,” said UCCSU Communications we Officer David Condon, speaking to the Express. “We are members of the board of directors who have engaged for the last three years, trying to proactively encourages them not to increase rents. Those planning negotiations have never been particularly fruitful. We’re hoping that this more radical option will lead to more radical change. We will be pledged to remain here until the board of directors that oversees the campus accommodation reverses the decision.”
“The five campus accommodation blocks are overseen by a board of directors, and the students’ Union sabbatical team are members of that board of directors. But what tends to happen is that that membership is used against us in a great capacity, because that means that when an increase comes in, UCC can release a media statement saying it was done in consultation with the student’s union. The reality is that, for the last few years, our voices have not been heard at all… [During both previous increases], the students’ Union have not been supportive of that drastic of an increase. We have always been supportive of the fact that on-campus accommodation needs to break even and be self-sufficient, but a 19% increase over three years doesn’t line up with any kind of expenditure sheet that we’ve seen.”
UCCSU joins other student unions across the country in protest action, where most universities have seen similar increases to UCC’s cumulative 19% over the last three years. In addition to the petition launched by the UCCSU, petitions have also been launched by TCD and NUIG’s unions.
The USI is actively supporting the on-going protest action by its member unions. USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick and USI Deputy President Michelle Byrne are due to meet Deputy Eoin Ó’Broin from Sinn Féin tomorrow about the issue. A meeting has also been scheduled with Jim Miley, the Director General of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) for next week. In addition, USI’s elected Campaigns Strategy Committee are also convening next week and will determine plan of action to take.
“Students have been struggling for a long-time, but these increases are absolutely a step too far. We think universities need to care more about their students’ welfare and less about making profits from students simply looking for somewhere to live,” said Lorna Fitzpatrick, “We are not letting up on this and completely support the action being taking by students and we will continue to back them until the increases are reversed and rents are frozen. Members in UCC have been sleeping out since Tuesday, NUIG from today, and they will be until these decisions are reversed, which really shows that students cannot take anymore.”
The recent action is part of the USI’s ongoing ‘Break the Barriers’ campaign, where the USI highlights the barriers faced by students and their families when accessing study in third-level education. Lorna Fitzpatrick says, “These announcements fly in the face of the reality faced by students across the country. Students are being put in debt every month of the year in order to pay for their education, and for anyone living away from home, rent is their highest outgoing.
“Unfortunately, it seems universities seem to care more about their profit margins than their students and that is just not acceptable.”
You can sign UCCSU’s petition against the rent increase here: https://www.change.org/p/university-college-cork-ucc-freeze-the-rent-reverse-the-3?recruiter=50640811.