Increasing the student capitation fees at University College Cork without a student referendum sets a dangerous precedent for the future, according to the president of the university’s Student’s Union.
Alan Hayes was speaking at a protest outside the president’s office at UCC on Wednesday.
The SU president hit out at UCC’s plans to its fee from €170 per student per year to €250 for incoming first years this autumn.
The university plans to continue this increase until it reaches €370 in 2023 with this fee to be paid on top of the Student Contribution Charge of €3,000.
The SU has called for a referendum on the issue.
“We’re here to represent the student voice and to ensure it is being heard,” said Mr Hayes.
“UCC has increased it’s capitation fee without a student referendum.
“This goes against the precedent of the past and sets a dangerous precedent for the future,” he added.
The SU believes a significant amount of the increased fees is to be spent on the sports strategy while the remainder will go towards additional student services such as counselling and health.
“The main issue for us is that this one was not put to a referendum,” said outgoing SU deputy president Kelly Coyle.
“I don’t think that too many students would be against the sports strategy - I certainly think additional sports facilities would be fantastic - but we’re still very against the capitation increase without a referendum.
“It’s so important that student voices are heard on these issues,” added Ms Coyle, who will become the unions equality officer in September.
“They need a say in what happens to them but in this case, the student voice was just cut out.
“Our argument was pushed aside and we were told that it’s incoming students, not current ones, that will have to pay and so we shouldn’t have a say.
“That’s really pushing democracy aside.” The Green Party in Cork has supported calls to put the fee increase to a vote.
“This increase in capitation represents a significant problem for a number of students,” said Green Party Councillor Lorna Bogue.
“A €200 increase spread over four years might not seem like a lot on the face of it, but for students who might only just afford their fees, or are dependent on grants or loans, it might as well be thousands.
“This is a step that will mostly affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged students, and just works to put more barriers to those people in entering into higher education,” she added.
“I feel the response from students, and the Students’ Union in UCC is incredibly fair and reasonable: recognising that the money from this increase will likely go to necessary on-campus services, and just wanting the student body to decide for itself if it wants to take the hit to fund these services going forward.” “Students have rejected similar proposals in recent years, it is unacceptable for this to go through without a referendum,” Councillor Bogue continued.
“Without the students themselves supporting the move, this just looks like the University putting proof that the idea that third level education is only for the wealthy.” UCC Students’ Union started a petition on Change.org earlier this week, asking UCC officials to put the decision to a referendum of students.
At the time of writing the petition has gained over 500 signatures.
This is the second financial increase affecting UCC students this year.
In January, it was announced that the price of on-campus accommodation would rise for 2019/2020, by between €500 and €630.
It followed another increase in 2018, and means the cost of a single en suite bedroom at the Victoria Mills accommodation complex has gone from €5,260 in 2016/2017 to €6,179 for the coming academic year.
A spokesperson for UCC said the university’s capitation fee has historically been among the lowest in Ireland’s higher education system.
He added that “these fee changes do not pertain to existing students and will be introduced in gradual increments from 2019/20”.
“Previously the Student Union held a referendum for changes to the capitation fee as these changes applied to existing students.
“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.”