By Padraic Toomey
President, NUI Galway Students’ Union
What is the levy?
The levy is the additional charge you pay after your fees. For an EU undergrad that would be anything after the €3000 fee. It pays for different things in different 3rd level institutions. From capital building projects, clubs & health units for example.
How much is it at NUI Galway?
At NUI Galway, the levy is the €224. Most undergrads pay €3000 in fees but the bit after that is the levy. Yet even if you’re on SUSI, you have to pay the €224 levy and SUSI doesn’t even cover it.
Do students get a say in it?
Students get all the say in the matter. The levy gets its backing from the Higher Education Authority with the line: “All universities have indicated that they charge additional levies to students. In all cases, thes charges have been agreed with the student body via referendum. The charges in each university are detailed below.” The important part being that they have to be “agreed with the student body via referendum”.
What does the €224 pay for?
Currently it is broken up into the following:
- €25.14 Students’ Union
- €19.28 Societies
- €19.28 Clubs
- €17.23 Áras na Mac Léinn levy
- €18.46 Health Unit levy
- €4.92 Flirt FM
- €19.69 Student Projects Fund
- €100 University Sports Centre
Why are we paying for these things?
This is a good question. Why is it not included in the €3000? Why is it a different price in different places? Even the likes of the health unit, NUI Galway is the only place in the country where the health unit is paid for by an extra charge.
Why not launch a referendum to drop it to €0?
Anyone could. Tomorrow morning if someone started collecting signatures, they could launch a referendum to drop the levy to €0. Whether it would pass via referendum would be hard to know. Many different parts of the institution like Clubs, Societies & the Students’ Union rely on the funding from the levy. It would be unlikely that the university would now give money to all of these departments.
Students could suffer in the end, but we do have to remember that there’s a massive benefit to the university with these parts of college. It attracts students to NUI Galway. You’re more likely to go somewhere and stay in college if you can make friends with the likes of clubs and societies.
Yet, it could lead to the Students’ Union losing its independence by being able to be pressured by the university. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” would come into play and the students would be the one to suffer with representation becoming a pawn that could be controlled by the university. Am I saying they would do that? No, but why give them the opportunity?
What are the problems with it?
We can break them down into three separate issues
1.€100 Sports Centre
What is it?
This part of the levy is the main issue students have. Agreed to in 2006, students voted in favour of building the Sports Centre also known as the Kingfisher which is the private company that rents it. The costs seemed to be a moving figure for a while but rests at €17 million with our current documents.
Have we not paid this off yet with millions collected each year?
Around €20.7 million has been paid so far. I assume alarm bells are now ringing in your head as to why the cost of the building is lower than the amount paid, and we are still paying. According to NUI Galway, students are to pay interest on the cost. They believe you owe somewhere around €27.2 million.
Why are we paying interest on a building owned by NUI Galway? Did they get a loan from someone?
They decided that all their loans are subject to a “notional” 5% interest rate. On a side note, to get 5% on an investment like this would be madness anyways. If you went to the bank, would they offer you 5% to keep your money in a savings account? No, never!
They did when the Students’ Union came after the levy, and decided to lower the interest they were going to charge students that students never agreed to in the first place. Madness? Yes.
To add to this, they didn’t get a loan for the construction either, it was a loan from themselves to themselves which is a long way of saying they paid for it with the money they had in reserve. So they will have a building they will own, collect money from students for to pay for the building and then charge rent to the likes of Kingfisher to rent it. The deal for the university couldn’t be sweeter, nor could it be worse for students. It is worth mentioning that students don’t get free access to the gym and swimming pool with this either. Even if they did, the Kingfisher would not be able to have the capacity to do so at all! So, you are paying for a building that you may never use, and if you do go to use it, it can cost you €250 after you pay €100 per year towards the construction cost.
2. €17.23 Áras na Mac Léinn fund
This fund is actually the most confusing out of all of them because we have so little information on it. It’s meant to fund the operating costs of Áras na Mac Léinn but it’s odd that we pay for the lighting and heating for one particular building on campus and nowhere else.
It would also be unreasonable to believe that the hundreds of thousands this collects are needed to keep the building running. We have no idea what this money goes towards. We are trying to find out but currently it’s a mystery so it should be reduced to the bare minimum.
3. €19.69 Student Projects Fund
Isn’t this really good for getting projects completed and new initiatives? Yes, some great things have come out of it. Some great things were even denied from it firstly like CÉIM. It’s hard to say it’s fair for students to be paying this. If the university wanted to get better and start new projects, then it should keep it and fund it. It could be a really great fund but so could a “Saving the Puppies Fund” where students pay into a fund that literally saves puppies, no one is going to say that you shouldn’t save puppies but should we all be basically taxed to do it?
What’s going to happen?
The Students’ Union are mandated by council to reduce the levy. The plan would be a referendum taking place this year to reduce it where students will have to vote if they want to pay less.