After rejecting a new funding structure proposed by Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) that would allow the College to internally audit DIT Students’ Union (DITSU), DITSU is to be left without funds for at least three months, and with an uncertain funding future beyond that.
The union states that this delay in coming to a funding agreement has left them in a state of financial limbo, unable to prepare for Freshers’ Week or continue to pay their staff, and has raised issues about the union’s autonomy in a development that has seen both union leaders and senators criticise the College’s actions.
According to the President of DITSU, Boni Odoemene, the College’s Internal Audit group insisted on modifying the proposed 2016-2019 funding agreement between the College and DITSU. Under these modifications the union would be subject to internal auditing by DIT, and the results of the audit would be brought to Governing Body, which oversees the management of DIT, and the Audit Committee for review.
Speaking to The University Times, Odoemene stated that this new wording was something “we could not accept. We just could not”.
An email statement issued to The University Times on behalf of DIT by Melda Slattery, the College’s Head of Public Affairs, states that ” DITSU will continue to be funded, and this has never been in doubt. This has been reiterated to the President of DITSU, Boni Odoemene.”
The proposed revision in the agreement came about after concerns were raised at a meeting of Governing Body about the union’s ability to audit itself. According to Odoemene, the agreement was not approved at that meeting, and was instead noted in the minutes as “agreed in principle”, pending this update from Internal Audit.
Odoemene stated that this proposed change “goes completely against our independence” and could damage the union’s autonomy: “This has never happened before. We have always been externally audited by an external auditing company. We would be subjected to an audit charter, which gives DIT full access not just to the funding that they give us but to any of the profits or monies that we get from our commercial activities, our minutes to board meetings, minutes to executive meetings, etc.” He added that, last year, DITSU was audited by Deloitte, and that the union then gave the results to the College “as a gesture of goodwill”.
He continued: “This in itself breaches the Student Charter, which gives us full autonomy from DIT.”
Speaking to The University Times, Annie Hoey, President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), stated USI are “deeply concerned” about this proposal: “Students’ unions have always been very cooperative with the institutions, are happy to share audited accounts. It’s a point of principle that they are to be kept separate and not to fall in under an internal auditing mechanism.”
She added their belief that DITSU “are more than upkeeping with standards and company law in terms of what they need to be doing, to be accountable, transparent and have been happy to share those audits with the institution.”
DIT’s statement asserts that “DIT is committed to supporting the full independence of our Students’ Union” and that the amount of money received by the union, a figure which stood at €1.09 million last year, is “the largest capitation grant of any Students’ Union in the country”. DITSU receives its funding from the registration charge, with the College giving these funds to DITSU as a fixed amount, rather than on a per-student basis.
Odoemene adds that days before he took over as President himself and Graham Higginbotham, who served as President for the 2015/16 year, met with the President of DIT, who said that if the new audit wording was accepted they could try to negotiate later on, or that the union could present an alternate solution to the College’s Audit Committee.
While preparing to present a solution, however, Odoemene states that they were asked instead to email their proposal and their reasoning, and that they would receive an answer at the meeting of Governing Body on July 13th. At that meeting they were then told no decision had been made, and that there was to be an update at the next meeting of Governing Body, which will meet in September.
Odoemene states that this leaves the union with an uncertain future: “We find ourselves now waiting for a meeting which does not guarantee us anything, with no funding. Three months with no money. We have Freshers’ Week, training of our new team, our staff’s payroll – everything. We have nothing.”
Odoemene added that there will be talk within the union of putting their staff on leave: “That’s 13 staff who have been here for over ten years, twenty years.”
The move has been condemned in the Seanad, with Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell stating in the Oireachtas last Thursday: “This is an attempt by an institution to try and use the pressure of funding to manage a union. And when you try and manage a union, as far as I’m concerned, it’s repugnant to the entire system. They must be independent and they must have their own auditing system in place, and they’re quite happy to do that. This is big brother trying to control things.”
Odoemene adds that every year the union makes a request for €100,000 “to hold us back for the summer months, which helps us with preparing us for Freshers’ Week and everything we do over the summer”. However, he states that last week the request for this year was rejected, and the union was urged to accept the new terms.
Labour Senator Ged Nash met with DITSU two days ago and stated in the Seanad that “the behaviour of the DIT executive in relation to this is really troubling and affects the independence and autonomy of the DIT Students’ Union”.
Multiple Senators, including Trinity Senator Lynn Ruane, who served as President of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union in 2015/16, have called on DIT to address the issue and secure interim funding for the union.