USI – New Board


THE UNION OF Students in Ireland (USI) has today elected Roscommon native Joe O’Connor as its new president for 2013/2014 at its annual congress.

O’Connor has served as the president of the GMIT Student’s Union for two years before this and was also previously the Vice President for Welfare.

The USI said today that O’Connor, who has an honours degree in Accounting and a Masters in Strategy and Innovation Management has personal experience of coping with the increasing cost of third level education, having relied upon the maintenance grant throughout his time in college.

Speaking today, O’Connor said the the need for “effective national representation is more acute than ever” as families struggle with increasing fees and “dwindling student supports”.

“At this time, 10,000 vulnerable students are still waiting on their first maintenance grant payment from SUSI and countless secondary school students wonder if they can afford to attain what should be their right; an education that best equips them to play their part in our country’s recovery,” he said.

“I have spent the last three years dealing with students facing these enormous difficulties first-hand. These experiences will not only inform my term as USI President but also provide the necessary motivation in our fight to protect access to higher education.”

UCD’s Paddy Guiney was elected to the position of Vice President for Campaigns. Guiney has stated that re-affiliating UCD is one of his top priorities.

Results for other positions on USI Officer Board 2013/2014:

  • VP for Academic Affairs and Quality Assurance: Cat O’Driscoll
  • VP for Welfare: Denise McCarthy
  • VP for Equality and Citizenship: Laura Harmon
  • VP for the Border, Midlands and Western Region: Kevin Donoghue
  • VP for the Southern Region: Ciara Guinan
  • VP for the Irish Language: Féidhlim Seoighe

Don’t let new freedom fool you into skipping lectures

The new academic year is under way all around the country, with over 45,000 first year students starting in third-level colleges or universities.

The transition from the structured environment of secondary school to the more independent existence at third level can be liberating and daunting at the same time. There is a great need to get the balance right between freedom and responsibility.

Unlike secondary school, where attendance at class was compulsory, nobody is going to hound third-level students to attend lectures or tutorials. It might seem as if they have a choice as to whether or not to attend. And for the first few weeks at least, students may be tempted to enjoy a carefree existence.

But study is not an optional activity. Although nobody is going to force you to go to your lectures, it is very foolish to skip them. The day of reckoning will come, in the form of exams and other assessments.

So how soon should a student start to study in earnest? This is a question at the back of many first-year students’ minds at present. Courses differ in their assessment procedures, but “as early as possible” is probably the best response.

Keep on top of classes, lectures, notes, reading lists etc, from early on. In some courses, attendance at lectures, tutorials (and lab sessions) goes towards the students’ final marks.

In a recent orientation sessions in UCD for first-year science students, graphs were shown which demonstrated the relationship between attendance and students’ exam results. Not surprisingly, they showed that not one of those students who attended all their classes failed their exams/assessments, and that not one of those who missed most classes passed.

More and more colleges assess students’ work throughout the year, with that mark forming part of their final grade, so it is important to note when assessments fall due, and pace oneself accordingly.

UCD advises students that possibly the most challenging part of adjusting to university life is taking control of their own learning.

Students are reminded that they may be required to do quite a bit of research and reading outside the lecture hall or seminar room, so what seems like big gaps in a timetable are there to allow time for that study.

But there is more to college than just study. Learning to maintain the balance between the social and the academic life is a very real part of the challenge facing students.

All the activities that a college has to offer — getting involved in sports, clubs and societies, writing for college magazines, getting involved in student representative bodies — are as important a part of the college experience as lectures and tutorials.

It is sometimes through these activities that students develop ideas and contacts that help them develop a career path, as much as the academic qualification.

It is a combination of social and academic development that helps students achieve what DCU has recently defined as Graduate Attributes.

These are: to be creative and enterprising, solution-oriented, effective communicators, globally engaged, active leaders, and committed to continuous learning.

DCU has developed its new programme of initiatives entitled Generation 21, to shape its graduates into rounded individuals ready to take their place and succeed in the workforce and in life.


Third level’s second class citizens


Children of non-EU migrants have the same rights as their Irish-born peers to primary and secondary education, but are at a disadvantage if they succeed in getting to third level, writes JAMIE SMYTH , Social Affairs Correspondent

LAIZA SUAREZ still remembers the day she got her Leaving Certificate results. She scored 425 points, enough to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse. “I was really happy. It got me into nursing at UCD,” she says, in a Dublin accent that almost masks her Filipino origins.

But unlike most of her classmates at her school in Cabinteely, Suarez’s joy was tinged with worry about her mother’s ability to pay her college fees.

Her mother, Josielyn, is one of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who came to Ireland to help fuel the Celtic Tiger economy. She left the Philippines in 2002 and secured a permit to work as a housekeeper in Dublin.

The teenage Laiza followed her in 2006 and completed secondary school in 2009. As the daughter of a non-EU migrant she is ineligible for free fees or the student grants that Irish and other EU students receive. The most she can hope for is to be accepted for a reduction in full international college fees for having lived in the EU. But even that reduction is too much to bear.

“My fees are €7,260 per year and my mum is low-paid. It is a struggle,” she says, pulling out her latest UCD bill to prove her point.

Josielyn took out a bank loan to cover the first-year fees and has borrowed money from her employer to pay the second-year fees. She is working additional nights and doing some childminding to help pay off the loans.

“I’m worried my employer could cut my hours,” she says. “The children in the house are getting bigger, and I’m afraid they won’t need me so much . . . The recession is difficult for a lot of migrant workers. After nine years in Ireland paying taxes I just don’t understand why Laiza had to pay fees and all the other children in her class didn’t.”

The Suarez family’s dilemma is faced by thousands of children of non-EU nationals living and working in Ireland. Migrant workers qualify for long-term residency rights and, in some cases, for free third-level fees after five years. However, arcane Irish immigration rules do not allow these rights to be transferred to their children. Nor can the children of non-EU parents earn residency in their own right.

The children of non-EU migrants are therefore regarded as foreign students when applying for third-level courses. Children must wait until they are 16 to begin building up the five-year residency requirement to become eligible for free fees.

“Categorising these kids as foreign students means they are not eligible for student grants or free fees even if they have spent their whole lives in the Irish school system and their parents have paid taxes and contributed to the economy,” says Helen Lowry, a community-work co-ordinator at the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). “Full international fees are hugely costly, as much as €20,000 per year in some cases. EU fees, which generally cost several thousand euro, are also a huge burden for migrants, who often work low-paid jobs.”

The decision on whether the child of a non-EU migrant pays full international fees or reduced EU fees is left to each individual college. For example, Trinity College Dublin charges EU fees if students have been resident in the EU for three of the previous five years before admission. But there is no uniform rule covering all colleges.

“There is so much paperwork to send in to prove you have been resident for several years, and at the back of your mind you worry they could charge you full fees,” says Lev Prymakov, a 20-year-old student originally from Ukraine.

Prymakov pays more than €6,000 per year to study financial and actuarial maths at Dublin City University. His mother, Olga, came to Ireland from Ukraine in 2001 to work in a fish-processing factory in Finglas. She now works at a call centre for a US multinational.

“I found it tough when I first arrived in Ireland, because I didn’t speak English. But I’ve integrated well, and most of my friends are Irish,” says Prymakov, who is looking for a part-time job to help pay his college fees.

His brother is due to complete his Leaving Certificate this summer, and Olga fears there will be no money to send him to college. “Migrants aren’t entitled to anything . . . You are third class, not like a citizen,” she says.

According to MRCI research, Ireland is out of step with many of its EU partners in its approach to integrating migrant workers through education. In Germany the children of non-EU nationals can be eligible for grants if one parent has been working there for three of the previous six years. In Denmark they are exempt from paying fees if they have a residency permit and their parents have work permits. Migrant students in Belgium can apply for a grant if they have lived with their family in the country for at least two years.

In Ireland, two attempts by the previous government to reform immigration law failed when Bills became bogged down in the Oireachtas. The new Government is promising to reform the system but has not given a date when this will happen.

It is not just the children of migrant workers who face economic exclusion from third-level education. The children of asylum seekers must also pay college fees, even when they are allowed to stay in Ireland.

Alena Bliznikova left Kazakhstan in 2001 with her parents, who claimed asylum in Ireland. They were granted leave to remain in 2005 by the minister for justice. Bliznikova became a star pupil at her secondary school, scoring 555 points in her Leaving Certificate.

“I was offered a scholarship because I had done so well. But when I submitted the application forms I was told I could not get it because I was not an Irish citizen and I hadn’t got full refugee status,” she says.

With no grant or scholarship available, Bliznikova gave up her dream of studying medicine, because the course was too expensive. She enrolled in an accountancy course at Rathmines College because it was so much cheaper than a university course, but she left after two weeks.

“I thought I could do much better at university. So I found a job and worked for two years to make money to pay the fees,” she says.

Bliznikova, who is now 21, finally enrolled at UCD to take an actuarial course in 2009. She is doing well at college, but her savings are running short already.

“My living costs are more expensive than I thought. My parents and I are struggling. If I wasn’t so focused on education I think I would have given up . . . but I don’t know if I will be able to pay for my third year. I’m worried I may have to drop out,” she says. “I feel it is unfair that I’ve been living here a decade and really want to do well and contribute to society but face this financial barrier.”

But at least she has made it to college. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of migrant children do not make it.

Cliona Hannon, director of Trinity Access Programmes (Tap), which works with schools and provides financial aid to help children from disadvantaged communities get into Trinity, says migrants tend to be among the most hard-working and ambitious students.

“In many cases we would have worked with the students and their families for years through the Tap primary and second-level outreach activities, and the idea of them having reached this academic transition point but being unable to progress for financial reasons is truly heartbreaking,” she says.

Tap currently has 15 non-EU undergraduates who are paying EU fees and five non-EU foundation-course students who will most likely have to pay EU fees next year. But many students simply can’t afford any university fees, according to Hannon. She says the access programme will consider asking Trinity to waive the fees for some students later this year. But this would not alter the fact that their residency status is unresolved and they can’t access grants, Hannon points out.

Observers warn that neglecting young migrants could mean a huge waste of potential talent that would benefit the State. A generation of migrant children could be alienated. “The people who are denied opportunity, who can’t fulfil their potential, are going to be alienated and angry,” says Prof John Mollenkopf, an expert on immigration and integration, who teaches at the City University of New York. “It does seem to me that a person who has grown up in a society, even if they lack citizenship or nationality, should be able to access the full range of educational opportunities.

“In an increasingly global world each nation benefits from having a diversity that enables it to link with other parts of the world. Migrants fully integrated into leadership of Irish society can create links with Africa, China or eastern Europe and help the economy. These children should be given a chance.”

The Irish Times – Saturday, April 2, 2011

There’s great freedom with two-subject combinations


A figure of 51,985 applicants completed their application before the close of CAO’s discounted online date last Thursday (January 20), compared to 48,324 on the same day last year. The discount is working as an incentive.

Meanwhile, some queries came our way.

Q I have applied to DN500 BA Joint Honours programme in UCD, and I chose a two-subject combination, although I am not absolutely certain of my choice. Will there be an opportunity to change if I get a place?

A Yes, there should be. One of the great advantages of the DN500 entry route is its breadth of choice and its flexibility. The majority of places in the UCD Arts faculty, about 1,230 of them, are applied for and allocated through DN500.

If applicants know what two subjects they would like to study for their Joint Honours degree, they check the subject combinations on the subject preference grid on page 62 of CAO’s handbook.

If they are applying online, they select their DN500 subject choices from the menu provided. Paper applicants use the three-letter code for that combination in their CAO form. Only a single two-subject preference code, or choice may be used.

UCD says that it is not mandatory for students to choose their first-year subjects before they arrive. However, the college knows that many students like the certainty of ‘booking’ a place in particular subjects when they apply to CAO so they provide this opportunity.

Applicants may wait until registration to choose their subjects, in which case they simply enter DN500 on their CAO application. However, there is a chance that if they wait until registration, they may find their choice is more restricted, because some of the more popular subjects may be oversubscribed.

When students enter DN500 in UCD, they will complete their subject choices.

If they have chosen their degree subjects, they will find themselves pre-registered to a number of modules. If not, they will have a free choice, subject to permitted combinations and availability.

Either way, they will still have the opportunity to choose other subject areas to make up the full complement of modules for the first year of their degree programme.

Applicants who choose their DN500 subject combination at the time of application may change their subject choice when they register, also subject to permitted combinations and availability.

Q Will different points apply for different DN500 subject combinations?

A No. Unlike the way selection is made in Trinity’s TR001 (two-subject joint honours degree combinations), where cut-off points vary from subject to subject depending on levels of competition for each subject, no variations in points cut-offs obtain in DN500.

Applicants are asked to use the facility of specifying their subject choices to give an indication of demand, and the cut-off points for DN500 will be the same.

Apart from DN500, UCD also offers applicants the choice of applying to one of 10 specific, ‘denominated’ courses such as English with Drama, or Psychology, or History or Economics, each identifiable by a specific CAO code. In these cases, different levels of competition do apply. Last year, they ranged from 505 for (DN519) Psychology, to 355 for (DN512) English with Drama.

See UCD’s website for details.

Q I was asked to provide information about my social and economic background on the CAO application. I did not complete the survey. What relevance has it to my application?

A It is not mandatory to complete this survey, but students are encouraged to respond.

The purpose of gathering the information is to help the Higher Education Authority measure equality of access to higher education so that they may identify resource and other needs required to attract students of all backgrounds to higher education.

Irish Independent – January 24 2011

Lecturers protest over Croke Park deal



MORE THAN 200 university and institute of technology lecturers met in Dublin on Saturday to protest against the implementation of the Croke Park agreement in third-level institutions.

The group, which met in the Gresham Hotel, is seeking to protect the right of academics to permanency and tenure until retirement age. They said this “bedrock on which academic freedom rests” was under threat.

The Croke Park deal, along with the Hunt report on higher education, proposes longer working hours and shorter holidays, tighter management control and performance-related pay.

They also open up the possibility that academics deemed to be substandard by management could be sacked.

Addressing the meeting, the organiser of the event, former president of the Teachers Union of Ireland and physics lecturer Paddy Healy, said academic freedom and tenure were not just “a ruse invented by academics to protect their employment” but were essential to ensuring that lecturers “cannot be dismissed for the expression of unpopular ideas”.

Mr Healy said that the right to permanency and tenure enabled academics to pursue “blue sky research” and the study of specialised subjects that would now be deprived of funds in favour of more commercially driven research.

Tom Garvin, emeritus professor of politics at UCD, was critical of what he described as the “thick layer of management” in third-level institutions. Prof Garvin said that in the past five years, Irish universities had been “enveloped in a great brown tide of nonsense on stilts, purveyed by overpaid and under-qualified presidents, provosts, registrars and vice-presidents” of everything, including football fields.

Ireland “went from a condition in which no connection was seen between education and economic development in 1950 to a condition in 2011 when it is believed that education has no other purpose than to further economic development”.

Former Trinity College lecturer Senator David Norris told the meeting that he was there “in solidarity to show that I am with you”.

Mr Norris said that while he agreed with “free universal education for those for whom it was appropriate . . . university education must be more than just a numbers game.”

In his address, former taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald urged academics to “be concerned with the restoring of genuinely academic issues, leaving to the unions the business of pay and conditions”.

He added: “If we are to be successful in defending academic standards, it has to be done in a way that is visibly not self-interested, not concerned about pay and conditions but concerned about genuine academic freedom, about research standards and about the real academic issues.”

It is understood that the governing authorities of universities, including UCD, UCG, UCC, have already circulated implementation plans under the Croke Park deal and that a separate document has been issued to the institutes of technology.

Mr Healy said it was not clear whether the governing bodies of universities planned to consult unions but “the heads of schools in UCD have been told they have to implement the plans forthwith”.

The meeting agreed to launch a petition calling on the governing authorities of all academic institutions to make a declaration in favour of academic freedom and to remove all threats to tenure and permanency to retirement age.

The Irish Times – Monday, January 24, 2011

UCD’s ‘unlawful’ payments now estimated at €6m



UCD MADE unauthorised payments of approximately €6 million to staff that will have to be refunded to the exchequer, the chief executive of the Higher Education Authority has said.

It had previously been thought that the university owed €1.6 million in “unlawful” allowances paid to senior academic staff.

However, the authority’s chief executive Tom Boland yesterday told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that the figure was far higher.

“We’re talking about €6 million over the period of the unauthorised payments,” he said.

He intended to withhold from the university on an annual basis a portion of their grant until the debt was repaid, and he would next month seek approval from the board of the authority to withhold an initial allocation of about €1.2 million, he said.

UCD has refused to refund the allowance to senior academic staff.

In a letter to Mr Boland, circulated at the committee meeting yesterday, UCD president Dr Hugh Brady warned that an attempt to sanction the university would be “inappropriate, counter-productive and of dubious legality”.

Dr Brady claims that additional payments were necessary to incentivise “academic leaders” to take up senior positions, were “non-gratuitous” and were funded from non-exchequer income.

Mr Boland told the committee that he was well aware of the arguments made by UCD, but that they did not hold water.

“This letter really brings forward nothing new. It does not change the position that these payments were unauthorised . . . It matters not a bit that the funding comes from public or private sources.”

A number of universities had been making unauthorised payments over several years, Mr Boland said.

However, he said, while UCD had made unauthorised payments of about €6 million, the rest of the sector combined paid out about €1 million.

“Pending a resolution of these issues we will actually withhold funding from each of the universities involved.”

The funding withheld from each of the other universities in the first year would be in the “low hundreds of thousands”, he said.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath asked whether any sanctions were to be imposed on the individuals involved, particularly those who had approved the additional payments, given that they had been told by the authority that these were “unlawful”.

Mr Boland said there would be significant difficulties in recouping the money from the individuals who had been overpaid and that the question of sanctioning those who had approved the payments was a matter for the boards of the universities in question.

It emerged at a previous meeting of the committee that additional allowances were paid over a 10-year period without the approval of the authority, despite legislation that stipulates approval must be sought.

There was a major conflict of evidence between Mr Boland and Dr Brady at that meeting as to whether UCD knew it was not allowed to make extra payments to senior staff.

The Irish Times – Friday, January 21, 2011




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