Next week at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) National Congress, in what is being
termed a “preferendum”, those chosen as delegates to represent their Colleges
will vote on what is to be the USI’s official position on the funding of higher
The system used to select and mandate delegates differs in each third-level institution.
This year in NUIG, preference was given to the current Students’ Union
executive, then to the incoming executive and then to class reps. The Student
Council meeting held to mandate the NUIG delegation on who to vote for in the
upcoming USI elections as well as on which funding model to support is open to
everyone but only Class Reps can vote. This meeting was held on Wednesday the
28th of March. With less than 30 class reps in attendance, quorum
was not met and as such no decision could be reached. Consequently, the NUIG
delegation will now go to USI Congress and vote on a funding model without any
debate or consultation from the 17,000 plus members they are supposedly
In other institutions, the “preferendum” has been put to the student body as a
referendum. In Trinity College, their delegation was instructed to vote for a
Student Loan system after the results of the referendum. 400 people voted and
little to no information was provided concerning the different funding model
positions bar a link on a website.
On Wednesday the 28th in NUIG, at the same Student Council mentioned previously
most of the candidates for the USI Officer-board 2012/2013 were present. Each
one of them was asked which funding model they would support in the
“preferendum”. All of them bar one said they would vote for a Graduate Tax.
It has become clear that the USI is no longer operating as a Union whose sole purpose
is to keep education open to all and to defend students’ rights. The USI is not
meant to serve as a middle-man between the Government and students; it exists
to demand, advocate and demonstrate for free education. The mere fact that such
options like a graduate tax, student loan system or full fees are even included
on a USI ballot paper tells us the organisation has forgotten its mandate as a
defender of equality of access to education.
Free Education for Everyone is calling on all those who believe in universal
education to attend this USI Congress next week – delegate or not. It is abundantly
clear that the nature of this “preferendum” is undemocratic. This is
demonstrated by the fact that the vote is being carried out by secret ballot
with many delegations free-voting without any consultation of the wider student
“100% Exchequer-funded” or free education
means that students pay absolutely no direct fees and education is funded
through taxation. The reason we support
this system is because rather than seeing education as a commodity that can be
bought and sold, and where students are customers, we believe that education is
a fundamental right for all citizens, and not just a privilege for the rich. We
believe that educating citizens to the highest level possible level, third and
beyond, benefits not just individuals but society as a whole.
The USI Congress is taking place in the Carlton Shearwater Hotel
in Ballinasloe Co. Galway from Monday 2nd April to Thursday 5th April. Discussion on the “preferendum”
motion will take place on the Monday at 7.15pm in the Plaza Suite. Voting on
the motion will take place at 5pm in the Clonfert Suite. Counting of votes in
the “preferendum” will begin after the conclusion of the Officer Board count
which starts at 8.30am on the Wednesday.
This is our chance to make it clear to this government that their diversionary
tactics will not sway us from fighting for free education. This message is
delivered to all those who are ready and willing to make that stance clear at
this congress. We hope to see you there.