By Caoimhe Killeen
A fourteen-year-long debate is set to be settled on April 22nd with a referendum to reduce the NUI Galway student levy taking place.
The notice of referendum was made in late March having reached its petition quota of 500 signatures, with the question being posed being that of reducing the current student levy of €224 to €140 euro.
If passed, it will come into effect on July 1st and change how the Student Levy Fund is distributed among student services.
2.14% of the fund would be allocated to Áras na Mac Léinn, 10% to the first-year academic mentoring programme CÉIM which would be paid and administered by the Students’ Union, 4.29% to Flirt FM, an equal spilt between clubs and societies of 17.86%, 3.57% to the Projects Fund, 15.71% to the Student Health Unit and 28.57% going to the Students Union itself, with the amount to be paid increasing every year.
The student levy was originally increased to allow for the completion of construction of the Kingfisher gym in 2007, followed by renovations to what is now known as Áras na Mac Léinn.
In an article by SIN it was revealed that there were discrepancies in what the University proposed, with NUI Galway collecting 20 million euros from the levy, meaning that the proposed 17 million euro contribution from students would have been raised more quickly than its original 18-year timeline.
Students’ Union President Pádraic Toomey described the levy as a “barrier to education”, stating;
“The levy we’ve seen is a barrier to education, it’s not covered by SUSI. We are the only college in the country that has a levy that goes towards recurrent costs and what we’ll see with the change is that we will be getting rid of the hundred euros which would have gone toward paying for the sports centre which we have been overpaying for years, while increasing funding to services that we value like clubs, societies, the SU and Flirt.”
Toomey appealed to students to vote yes to decreasing the levy on this upcoming referendum as students have been “hard-done” by in paying interest on the sports centre.
“They’ve been hard-done by, by paying interest on the sports centre in the last couple of years, by paying interest that the University used its own money to build with 5% interest on it, which is crazy! And the University want to collect another 5.5 million euro on top of that again, and they should vote to stop that and make it clear that we’re not paying these hundreds of euros towards something we shouldn’t be paying towards.”
Yet, Students’ Union Clubs Captain Kristy Moran states that while this proposed levy on paper looks like an automatic win for clubs, this is not the full picture and will have “notable implications on NUIG sport as a whole.”
Moran stated that the fund “is the main resource available to clubs in terms of capital sport investment, with one million euro worth of equipment for clubs funded through it over the last five years.
“Some clubs have even approached me that without the student project fund, it wouldn’t have been feasible to start their sport in NUIG, due to the requirement for large initial investment to get the club up off the ground. This is particularly relevant for clubs that may not be of a competitive nature with the support of high-profile alumni or NGB (National Governing Body) elite pathway.”
With the Student Project Fund set to be cut by 75%, Moran also stated that another student capital project would be met with serious reservations.
“There’s also the issue of the reality being, with this being viewed as a breach of contract, the likelihood of another student capital project be it sport or not sport will have some serious reservations about going down this route again, another capital investment opportunity in sport or student life in general put at risk.”
Yet, Toomey stated that NUI Galway provides the lowest funding to clubs and societies in the country as things stand.
“No other clubs have a levy; we’d be looking for the University to fund their side of things probably. It won’t set back clubs as the university should still be funding the Student Project Fund.”
But Moran argued that clubs have requested more clarification on the situation from the University on the whole situation and has proposed an open information forum to NUIG staff and to the SU.
“In terms of the sports centre, there is lots of perspectives floating around the University of what is the actual story is in terms of the contract, the interest and so on. A Q&A with the bursar and other University staff was hosted upon request from clubs last week for club captains to ask any questions, voice concerns, and look for clarity”, explained Moran.
“I believe it is of utmost importance that all NUIG students have access to the facts and reality outcomes of both sides of the discussion so that they can make an educated and informed decision when they cast their vote on April 22nd. For this reason, I proposed to NUIG staff and the SU an open information forum for all students, empowering students to make their own informed decision on the referendum because mine, the SU, or the Uuniversity’s opinions do not matter only that of the individual student as they cast their vote.”
Indeed, instead of focusing on the SU elections these next couple of weeks, Toomey has stated he will focus on raising awareness on the levy and stated an open information evening is needed.
“I’ve tried to organise one with the University, hustings style just to answer questions and have rebuttals on it. I’ve been meeting with clubs and societies so that they can air any grievances or any worries and keep it open as possible and doing Instagram Live Q and A’s, wherever I can get a platform to answer worries or questions is important to me.”
On the society front, the University Societies Coordination (USCG) welcomed a reduced student levy but expressed concerns over a cut of the Áras na Mac Léinn fund.
They stated that the “building is the home of societies/students, and this will force all student services that are located there to seek additional external funding to ensure the availability and maintenance of key resources/spaces for societies & students. The alternative source for this funding is likely to be more corporate events held in Áras na Mac Léinn which actively takes power from the student’s hands. This will move the financial burden back onto students, not remove it.”
Information sessions were also held for all society committee members by the USCG to explain how the proposed cuts would negatively impact the fund as well as societies and clubs.