TCD students occupy campus building in protest over fees

Vice-Provost holds talks with student leaders to discuss demands over supplemental feesK

a
 

Students in Trinity College Dublin blocked entry at two main access points to the college on Tuesday in protest at the introduction of a new fee structure for supplemental examinations.

The students are demanding that proposed supplemental examination fees be scrapped; affordable rental options be introduced and that student fees not be increased.

The protesters said they intended to carry on their demonstration tonight and remain in place until at least Wednesday night.

Earlier, a group of about 50 undergraduate and postgraduate students occupied the Dining Hall in the university’s Front Square at 10am.

A rally in support of the occupation was held in the college at lunchtime and students were addressed by TCDSU leader Kevin Keane, Senator David Norris, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan, Workers’ Party councillor Éilis Ryan and Ciarán Perry of Unite.

A group of some 40-50 students moved to block access to the college’s front gate following the protest while a second group blocked the entrance to the Book of Kells. A third group of students briefly blocked the Nassau Street entrance to the college.

Vice-Provost and chief academic officer Prof Chris Morash met student representatives to discuss their demands this afternoon.

“We had a good discussion. We have a sense of where they are coming from with this. We have asked them to go away and draught up what they think is fair. I am perfectly happy to engage with them and to work with them,” he said.

‘Disappointed’

Prof Morash said he was “a little bit disappointed because the measure that is being protested against was originally brought in to make things fairer for students.”

He said students who currently repeat the year have to pay for the whole year including the cost of modules they might have already passed.

“That can be over €6,000. So, we wanted to make it so that students could repeat the things they had failed. To balance the cost of that we introduced a fee for supplemental exams. The idea was that instead of a few students paying a lot and other students paying nothing we would level out the cost across different forms of reassessment.

Asked what impact the protest would have on the college, Prof Morash said: “On the one hand I support the right of students to protest. That’s one of the things that students do. I was certainly involved in student protest myself back when I was an undergraduate student. That sort of thing I wouldn’t be worried about.”

“That said, the reason that say the Book of Kells is important in Trinity is because cuts in Government funding to the university sector mean we have had to be more inventive in the way in which we generate revenue.

“When that is targeted, it impacts on students. The money that is raised through those sort of activities helps pay for things that benefit students - for better teaching, better facilities, better research. It’s a bit counter-productive really.”

Prof Morash said the proposal to introduce a flat supplemental fee would result in students paying less overall.

“The message that got caught out there is that we are introducing a fee for supplementals full-stop. But what it misses is the other part of the story that there is a quid pro quo there - there is a kind of a balance.

“Rather than being a money-making exercise this is actually going to mean that students collectively contribute about €200,000 less than they do at the moment.”

Additional fees

Tuesday’s protest represents an escalation of the campaign which began in response to a Trinity College proposal in January to introduce additional fees of €200 per repeat examination with a cap of €1,000.

Students subsequently voted against the measure in a referendum where 82 per cent voted against the implementation of supplemental fees.

A statement issued by the students said: “Despite this, the college board have decided to ignore the voice of the students, and implement Supplemental Fees at a flat rate of €450. Last year college signed a student partnership agreement which established students as stakeholders. Trinity’s decision to introduce supplemental exam fees is evidence of their continuing disregard for students, their opinions, and their welfare.”

It added: “We have escalated our actions to an occupation of Trinity’s historic Dining Hall. We have a body of students in the Dining Hall who have secured the building. The occupation is to show College that we will no longer stand for the commercialisation of students.”

One of the occupying students, Conchuir Ó Raidaigh said students were committed to remaining in the building until their demands are met.

“We have brought supplies for long term occupation. We’re willing to stay for as long as it takes for our demands to be seriously considered with concrete commitments in place,” he said.

“We have support of the both non-academic staff unions and strong backing from academics and fellows. This is now more than just a simple fee reversal, it has become part of a struggle for all students and staff against hawkish corporatisation in 3rd level.

“Plans for escalation are in place if the board doesn’t come to the table and consider our demands. We’re joining movements like UCU strike and occupations in the UK and hope this is the beginning of a national movement against the neoliberal takeover of education.”

a