Concern has been expressed about the response of the Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) sabbatical officers to the recent increase in non-EU fees. No dissent was noted in the minutes of the College Finance Committee meeting at which the increase was approved.
Molly Kenny, the Education Officer of TCDSU, told The University Times that the sabbatical officer team “did not discuss” the recent three per cent increase in non-EU fees and that “it didn’t come up” in a meeting of the team. Lynn Ruane, who, as President of TCDSU, sits on the College Finance Committee, is not noted as objecting to the increase in the minutes of the committee’s meeting on October 20th. Ruane, however, is contesting the minutes. Speaking to The University Times, Ruane said: “I did oppose the increase.” She noted at the meeting that, “without improvements to the issue of accommodation and the cost of living” that a fee increase was “not the way to go”, she said. The minutes of the meeting say that “the Committee fully supported the proposed increases and recommended them to Board for approval.”
Following a request for comment from The University Times, Ruane emailed Ian Matthews, the College’s Chief Financial Officer, who is secretary of the committee, to ask why her opposition was not recorded in the minutes, she said. Katie Crowther, the President of the Graduate Students’ Union, who, while not a voting member of the committee, attends the meetings, told The University Times that Ruane had in fact voiced opposition to the increase. Crowther also says she voiced opposition to the increase herself. Neither Ruane or Crowther were at an extraordinary meeting of the committee on November 9th, where they would have had the opportunity to suggest amendments to the minutes, due to scheduling issues. Both Ruane and Crowther confirmed that they were going to raise the issue at yesterday’s Finance committee meeting.
“If [Ruane] made no opposition, it’s a bit of a problem, but not unwarranted if she’s advocating for a better service for international students” such as accommodation, Kenny said. She noted that she was not saying that she fully agreed with that reasoning, but that she understood it.
Responding to a question asking if she felt an increase in non-EU fees was important enough to be addressed at a meeting of the sabbatical officers, Kenny said: “If we were to discuss everything that happened in every meeting that we had, we’d end up not going to any meeting.” She went on to say that an increase in non-EU fees was “just one thing of many that came up at Finance Committee”.
James Bryant, the union’s Engineering, Maths and Sciences Faculty Convenor, said, however, that he found it “unusual” that they would not have discussed it. Speaking to The University Times, he said: “In this specific instance, it seems to me like a big enough issue that it should have been thoroughly discussed by the sabbats.” Trish O’Beirne, the union’s Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty Convenor, said it was not a “small topic”. “I think I would have brought it up”, she said. “It’s a big enough issue that it should’ve been brought up. It’s a big issue that would worry international students.” As Faculty Convenors, Bryant and O’Beirne are two of the union’s most senior members aside from the sabbatical officers.
Ruane acknowledged that she should have properly discussed it with the other sabbatical officers and that she should have brought it up at Union Forum, one of the union’s decision-making bodies.
Others, however, feel that the lack of discussion represents the absence of a coherent game plan in response to such increases. Speaking to The University Times, Nicholas Spare, a fourth-year law and German student said: “I’m disappointed to hear that no opposition from Lynn was recorded in the minutes. I’m also disappointed that there’s been no cohesive strategy by the SU sabbatical officers to address the increase.” Spare, two years ago, brought a motion to TCDSU’s council to mandate the then-President of TCDSU, Tom Lenihan, to inform College authorities of the union’s opposition to an increase in non-EU fees that was approved in the 2013/14 academic year. The motion was in response to comments made by Lenihan to The University Times, in which he said that the “risk level” that the increase would “deter potential international students” was low. The motion said that his comments disregarded “the very real financial and social impact this decision will have on the lives of international students and their families”.
Spare also took issue with comments that Ruane recently made to The University Times, in which she said that she would not automatically oppose an increase in non-EU fees if international students were consulted in terms of “their say and the quality of education that they receive”.
“The impression I’ve gotten is that that this is an issue they really just don’t care about”, he said.
He went on: “The way they’ve dealt with this is shameful. In the three years I’ve been at Trinity, the increase in non-EU fees has exceeded the entirety of the Student Contribution Charge Irish students pay. We’re members of this union too, but I think it’s quite clear from the words and actions of the sabbatical officers that we are second-class members.”
Last year, Trinity increased fees for non-EU students by three per cent, while the previous year, the fees were increased by five per cent.
Unlike EU students, students from non-EU countries are not eligible to have their tuition costs paid for by the Higher Education Authority. In Trinity, a typical arts student will pay €16,925 in tuition fees, while medicine and dentistry students may pay up to €30,000. While the state decides the level of EU fees, as well as the student contribution, it is within the remit of each university to set its own non-EU fees.
According to the most recent Senior Lecturer’s report, there were 1,775 non-EU students in Trinity in the 2013/14 academic year. The increase in non-EU fees comes against a backdrop of consistent rhetoric from College that seeks to promote Trinity globally and attract international students, with its 2014–19 strategic plan emphasising the need to “attract students of the highest calibre from all continents”. In recent years, tuition fee-paying non-EU students have been seen as a way to offset the deficit in state funding seen since the economic crisis.
Spare’s motion from November 2013 also mandated the TCDSU Welfare Officer to hold a meeting at the time for non-EU students “to discuss the impact a fee increase could have on their lives and report the findings to the College administration”.
Conor Clancy, the current TCDSU Welfare Officer, declined to comment when asked whether the sabbatical officers had discussed the recent increase.
Clancy, Kenny, Ruane and Crowther also sit on the College Board, which approves the decisions and minutes of its subcommittees as a matter of procedure. The University Times understands that while several Board members spoke about the increase, both the increase and the minutes of the Finance Committee meeting in question were approved by the Board on November 11th.