University student charge a 'fee'
The heads of the State’s main universities have acknowledged that the student registration charge is being used to fund academic services such as libraries and is a form of fees.
The Joint Oireachtas Education Committee met earlier today to discuss the use of the student support charge with the heads of seven universities and the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
Dr Hugh Brady President of University College Dublin (UCD) said the charge was “a fee… a non-tuition fee”.
Professor John Hughes of NUI Maynooth said the charge was a fee whether it was called a student service charge or something else.
The adjustment in the core funding from the Government tended to be matched by an adjustment in the student service charge, he said.
President of University College Cork (UCC) Dr Michael Murphy said the international perception was realistic, that Ireland had fees even if this was not acknowledged
Provost of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) Professor John Hegarty said the core funding and the student service charge were linked. The connection between the increase in the charge and the core grant going down is not accidental, he said.
Professor Ferdinand Von Pondzynski President of Dublin City University (DCU) said the charge was a “fee”. This situation was “inevitable” when the student service charged was introduced following the abolition of fees in 1996, he said.
The university heads acknowledged the use of the €1500 charge for a wide range of services and spoke of the lack of a precise definition of student services under the Universities Act.
Accounts submitted by the university to the committee reveal that the largest category for spending the student charge was on “academic and other services” which includes the library and information systems. In the case of TCD and UCD this accounted for expenditure of over half of the charge.
In a letter to the committee the seven university student’s union presidents said information technology and library services were “core academic services” and were moved under the student services charge expenditure “in a bid to account for the substantial increases over previous years”.
Professor Von Pondzynski said there was no change of definition or improper accounting but when the student charge was introduced it was not large enough to use for a whole range of services.
Dr Murphy of UCC highlighted the ambiguity by asking if filling potholes left by the bad weather was a student service or part of the core funding of the university.
Prof Hegary was asked by committee chair Paul Gogarty TD about the use of the charge for animal research facility at TCD. He said there was some “tweaking” to be done in the definition of student services at TCD.
Chief Executive of the HEA Tom Boland said that student services were broader than clubs and the student’s union. The library was “not excluded” from the definition. However he said tuition was paid for by the state.
“There are no tuition fees for higher education”. The HEA was carrying out a review of the use of the student service charge.
FG Education Spokesman TD Brian Hayes said it was a “gigantic game of bluff” by Minister for Education Batt O'Keeffe , the HEA and the seven universities and fees were being “effectively introduced by the back door”.
In their joint submission the universities supported the introduction of a student loan system to fund third level education.