- Societies state they were not consulted on proposed levy changes, which would see a dramatic decrease in funding for student services.
- Students Union claim proposed levy would create more ‘student forward’ money, managed by the SU for student projects.
By Valerie McHugh and Conor Brummell
NUI Galway are holding a referendum on the 22nd April that would see the current Student Levy reduced from €224 to €140.
There have been mixed reactions to the proposal of the referendum, with a vast cohort of students expressing that they were caught “unawares” to the levy changes.
The proposed cuts to the levy have been called into question by the University Societies Coordinating Group (USCG) and society staff within Áras na Mac Léinn, who claim that they were not included in any discussions about a proposed levy reduction.
Speaking to SIN, the USCG, who work to assist University societies in fulfilling their aims, say that they were “shocked” by the referendum announcement.
The Students’ Union have claimed that societies were consulted on the levy changes through a series of focus groups held in the past academic year.
However, the USCG say that while some general society members were involved in focus groups carried out to explore a possible change in the levy, the “USCG were never contacted about the matter.”
A representative from the group told SIN: “From what I’ve been told, the Students’ Union held focus groups in the last couple of years and some of the students that attended just happened to be members of societies or perhaps committee members of societies.
“But, that doesn’t mean that they know all of the facts. If you had asked me a year ago how much it cost to run Áras na Mac Léinn I wouldn’t have even known, so these students didn’t have the information about the running of these funds to make that decision.”
The USCG say that the first time they heard about the referendum was during the Easter break, when the Students’ Union announced it via social media.
Following feedback from some society members, the group has decided to campaign for a ‘No Vote’ on the referendum, as they feel it has not been thoroughly thought through.
Speaking about the Student Project Fund, USCG said that the fund is predicting a 75% levy loss which they say will “negatively impact students and societies.”
40% of the total Student Project Fund is raised through the levy, which is set to lose almost €232,500 in levy funding should the referendum be passed.
The remaining 60% of the Student Project Fund is funded by the University, which equates to €490,000 per year.
The USCG is wary that if Students decide to cut the levy, that the University will also reduce the funding they provide for student projects that maintain the 60:40 funding ratio that currently exists.
The Student Project Fund has aided in the establishment of YourSpace, the LIFT Leadership Programme and the Tax Clinic, along with other initiatives such as the Active Consent Programme, the Employability Awards and CÉIM.
The USCG have said that there would have been “wiggle room” for a levy reduction that would have satisfied all parties concerned, if the Students’ Union had consulted them.
They also assert that they would have been willing to cut the €100 sports centre charge from the levy, and discuss further cuts to Societies, Clubs, The Student Project Fund and The Áras na Mac Léinn fund, “if the cuts made sense and gave appropriate funding to services as needed”.
Another spokesperson for the USCG said that the proposed levy doesn’t give the ample funding to services that would logistically better those services.
“We could have negotiated and re-invented the levy, if that’s what the Students’ Union wanted,” they said.
“For example, the proposed increase in funding to the Student Health Clinic would be €59,000, but what the Student Health Clinic has been asking for is a full-time Psychiatrist, which would cost roughly €110,000 a year. They would need an increase of seven euro or more for that to work.
“The Students’ Union also decided to give Societies and Clubs five euros more, which is interesting, because they didn’t ask Societies and Clubs how they’d even spend it.”
The USCG spokesperson also said that the Áras na Mac Léinn fund was being ‘gutted’ and that it would negatively affect students accessing supports such as The Hub Kitchen.
They also stated that the Áras na Mac Léinn building is not a “teaching” building, so the University will not fund it completely, and therefore needs a contribution from the Student Levy.
“Currently, the Levy funds 45% of the building, and only pays for student use of the building. The University funds 55% of the building, for works such as painting or cleaning or the small upkeep jobs that need done,” they explained.
“We could have taken a fiver off the Áras na Mac Léinn Fund, and that would be fine, if we’d been consulted and told about the changes. We could have probably taken two or three euros off the Societies and Clubs, if that money was being redirected to services that would benefit from it, or left the Societies and Clubs at their current funding of €19.28 and split their five euro increase elsewhere.
“The problem with the referendum is that we were not consulted, and the new levy is not realistic. What we would like to see happen is a new levy brought in, and we would not be opposed to that, as long as everyone was happy with it,” they finished.
Some NUI Galway societies and clubs have also slammed the proposed levy reduction online, urging their members to vote ‘No’ in the referendum on social media.
The student levy in NUI Galway, a thread:
Usually we try to remain politically neutral on this platform but this week, I think we have to make our voices heard. I’m sure you’ve seen that #NUIG is trending in Ireland, this is because of the SU Levy Referendum on the 22/04.
— NUIG CompSoc #SaveÁrasnaMac (@NUIGCompsoc) April 20, 2021
As you all probably know by now the SU are holding a referendum this Thursday to reform the student levy.
While a reduction in the levy is well overdue unfortunately we believe the proposed levy is not fit-for-purpose and will ultimately do more harm than good for students pic.twitter.com/mV95QgH9aJ
— NUIG Cheerleading (@NuigCheer) April 20, 2021
Students’ Union President Pádraic Toomey commented on the concerns among societies in the University, stating that there would not be a loss of funding for the Students Project Fund.
“For the projects fund, the fund should still have around €600,000 in it annually, it’s just that the student’s contribution to it would be lowered. As well as that, any project within the fund can only be started there and only funded for a maximum of three years. Part of the application process requires you to plan how to fund the project after the term is over,” he told SIN.
“With something like the Active Consent Programme, that should have been funded centrally originally, will require central funding in the future. With Minister Harris’ push for consent on campuses, I’m sure this will be done over the next couple of years.
“But I would also clarify that any project that is funded by the Student Project Fund, for example Active Consent, is that if they applied for €30,000 funding for three years, the project’s fund will have to put €90,000 aside for this to complete its three years. This means that the project’s fund would be ready if there was ever a reduction in the funding of the fund.
Pádraic also stated that the increase in SU funding would go towards creating more full-time officer roles on the SU Executive, to bring themselves in line with other universities.
“The proposed SU increase, as mandated by SU council, would see a €3 increase going towards Irish language promotion on campus,” he said.
“The rest will lay a fountain for a lot more work with the Students’ Union. With this, we would also be keen to see the number of full-time officers increased. When we compare ourselves to the likes of Trinity, UCC or DCU which are similar sizes in their student body, they have five full-time officers whereas we have three.
“There would also be the long term goal to do something big like UK Students’ Unions who own and manage the property to rent at the lowest prices to allow for more students to be able to afford college,” he said.
“All the money that the Students’ Union has is for its members. If students want something, this money would mean that their Union can do it for them. If that money is mandated by SU Council to be spent in a certain way, that’s what that money has to be spent on. It’s the most student-forward money that we could possibly have to better student life on campus,” he finished.
The Referendum to reduce the student levy on campus is taking place tomorrow, Thursday the 22nd of April.
SIN would implore students to use their vote in whatever way they wish, but would also urge students to inform themselves on the matter before voting.
Some useful resources are listed below.
Notice of Referendum: https://su.nuigalway.ie/notice-of-referendum-thursday-22-april-2021/
NUIGSU Referendum FAQS: https://su.nuigalway.ie/referendum-faqs-2/
USCG breakdown of student funding: https://www.nuigstudents.ie/levy-referendum
A piece on the history of the Student Levy and the Sports Centre Charge can be found here: https://sin.ie/2021/04/06/students-union-moves-for-levy-referendum-amid-kingfisher-cost-dispute/