USI woos back uni' unions


Cash-starved USI could get a £30,000 boost next year if students at University College Dublin vote to reaffiliate to the union in a referendum early in the next term.

UCD disaffiliated from USI just over a year ago in an acrimonious referendum that was decided by a handful of votes. However, at the last USI congress in March, the union helped pass a number of reforms, which made it difficult for them to stay out of the union for more than a few months. Union sources say it is now likely that a council meeting next week will call a referendum for January. If the students voted to rejoin the union, it would mean at least another £30,000 a year in affiliation fees for USI, who are currently on the market for a new headquarters. The national union has been unable to appoint a research officer, as mandated by congress, because of a cash-flow crisis. UCD's return would also encourage the student union in UCC to return to USI - local student newspapers report that union officers are favourably disposed to such a move.

Both UCD and UCC students' unions are members of the Federation of University Student Unions (FUSU), which was refused recognition by the Minister for Education earlier this year. UCD students' union education officer Charlie McConalogue says that although FUSU came to be portrayed as an alternative national students' union, it was never any more than a "forum" where university student unions exchanged ideas and policy concerns. As such "it hasn't failed. USI could learn from looking at FUSU and recognising the vacuum it filled. It hadn't the same structural basis as USI, and there was no point in going down that road."

FUSU had a rocky start to the year when its members became embroiled in a debate about their position on the abolition of university fees. The presence of the presidents of Trinity and UCD students' unions at USI's Dublin protest march earlier this month was a sign of a thaw in relations between USI and FUSU members. Students in Cork were also impressed by the support they received from USI during their recent protest at overcrowding in the college. According to Charlie McConalogue, UCD students "who voted to disaffiliate last year are now willing to return to a reformed union.

"The reforms we wanted have already been passed. It's simply a matter of implementing them. USI are the only organisation the Government will talk to and the only one they will award a seat on the HEA, so it's better for us to get back in and guide the union in a direction we're happy with."

However, UCD students' union president John Nisbet is more cautious about the prospect of returning to USI. He says the union has merely "opened up the proper lines of negotiation and discussion on the matter". UCD's union will have to be sure that reforms are being implemented and that "students from UCD will be better looked after by USI than they were before", Nisbet warned.

Nonetheless he acknowledged that there is "a definite mood from union council that they'd like to go back into USI as soon as possible".

In E&L November 17th, DCU president Dr Danny O'Hare was quoted as saying that his university graduated more PhDs in 1993 than any other. This statement should have read: more PhDs per head of staff than any other university.