Conor Anderson - UCDSU President

Last week it was confirmed that third-level institutions will be permitted to charge students full registration fees for the coming year despite widespread restrictions on on-campus learning and facilities. The decision by University College Dublin (UCD) to charge students €3,000 or more for ‘blended learning’ has provoked criticism from UCD Student’s Union (UCDSU) President and Welfare Officer. 

Speaking to The College Tribune, UCDSU President, Conor Anderson, said that “the decision by UCD not to reduce fees will have a definite negative impact on students’ well-being.” He went on to criticise some UCD programmes for increasing their fees in light of the pandemic saying: “Some programs are actually increasing fees, and the plan going forward has no room for any reduction in cost. Students are starting to realize how unfair it is for UCD to foist the costs of operating during Covid onto them, and I hope that we will start seeing some mass organizing on that front. We at the UCDSU are ready and willing to do whatever we can to facilitate students in this struggle.”

Last week, Minister for Education, Norma Foley TD, faced calls from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and opposition TDs including People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, to commit to the lowering of student registration fees in light of Covid-19 restrictions affecting student’s learning. However, Minister Foley later announced that the implementation of fees will be decided by individual institutions, who are permitted to charge students full registration fees. 

Speaking last week, Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris TD, conceded that the registration fee for Irish universities was “too high” and recommended that students struggling financially should apply for the Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) grant system in order to pay for the next academic year, which will “take on board if a family’s income has changed due to Covid-19.”

UCDSU Welfare Officer, Ruairí Power, has told The College Tribune of the growing need to lower the student contribution charge, which is currently the highest in the European Union. He said: “Either we believe education is a public good or we don’t […] The Government should not ignore the fact that many families have lost income as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and part-time jobs are far more difficult to find for students now. If Minister Harris is committed to breaking down the barriers to higher education, now is the time to act and reduce the Student Contribution Charge. We need more than a “Covid Discount”, we need meaningful first steps towards the ultimate end-goal of the abolition of the student contribution charge, and the establishment of a fully public higher education model.’

On university fees, Minister Harris later said that he is “committed” to their reduction in the future, however, he could not commit to lowering them in the next budget. He said: “I do think the registration fee in Ireland is too high and it is something that I would like to see addressed, obviously that depends on a whole variety of issues, but I am committed to working on it.”

Gemma Farrell – Assistant News Editor