“Let’s make UCD a place for knowledge, not for business” was the key message at the “Fix Our Education” Campaign launch last week. UCD markets itself as a global university that is accessible for students of all backgrounds. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
UCD has in recent years completely disregarded the wellbeing of students. By continually under resourcing mental health and disability services on campus, the university administration has sent a clear message that student welfare is not on their agenda. The number of students attending UCD has increased, yet funding for on-campus mental health services have been cut again this year. Counselling services and the Access Centre are chronically under resourced, placing an unfair burden on staff who are working within a broken system. Similarly, the Students’ Union often have to advocate on behalf of vulnerable students who should be assisted by trained professionals. Long waiting lists, outsourcing vulnerable students to private counsellors reinforce the idea that students with additional needs or mental health difficulties don’t matter. With reports finding that 1/3 of Irish students have been diagnosed with a mental health difficulty, this indifference towards providing a functioning mental health service is particularly shocking.
The University has repeatedly refused calls by the Student’s Union to allocate a proportion of accommodation for low-income students at an affordable price. Instead, they have decided to dramatically increase campus rents in the middle of a national housing crisis to maximise revenue. Additional builds are increasingly unaffordable, making the possibility of finding suitable campus accommodation unattainable to the majority of students. The austerity era funding cuts to the childcare assistance fund have never been reversed, acting as an additional barrier to mature students particularly. Student workers are not guaranteed a living wage, and tutors are being exploited to do correctional work/preparation on zero-hour contracts for inadequate pay. It is fundamentally wrong that student welfare is being completely disregarded by the university as they enforce a neoliberal spending policy that prioritises profit at any cost to student wellbeing.
The argument that UCD cannot afford to properly fund these services just doesn’t hold up. The fact that the University spends more on luxury flights than it does on the health and counselling budget is a clear example of what the university prioritises. UCD spends twice as much on these luxury flights than every other university in the state combined, with the College President spending €90,000 on personal travel expenses in the last two years alone. Refurbishing the President’s office will cost upwards of €7.5million; a huge increase from the initial estimate of €900,000 without a detailed costed plan being published. Between this, multi-million euro overspends on the Confucius Institute and €14 million for the University Club, the university has clearly demonstrated through irresponsible spending practises that student welfare will not be prioritised over elitist infrastructure.
Reckless overspends and funding allocations of this nature raise serious concerns about the level of oversight being applied on an executive level. The UCD Mission Statement clearly states that the University is supposedly committed to “The holistic development of each student to her or his fullest potential”. How is this possible when the basic needs of students haven’t been met? Asylum Seekers, students in precarious living conditions and students with disabilities are among the most vulnerable students who have been left behind by callous spending practises and cuts to essential services.
It doesn’t have to be this way. With a cost-rental model, students can be provided with affordable accommodation on a large scale. Functioning mental health, disability and childcare services are not a pipe dream. Guaranteeing workers a living wage will not bankrupt the University finances, but a continuation of the current failed policies and reckless spending may well do just that. “Fix our Education” is committed to tackling these issues head on and holding the University to account.
Ní neart go cur le chéile.
Ruairí Power – Co-Chair of Fix Our Education UCD