Further Furore Surrounding USI Funding ‘Preferendum’

The number of issues plaguing the USI Preferendum seems to be multiplying by the hour. Rumours appeared over the weekend, claiming that senior members of USI, Gary Redmond and his successor John Logue had met with members of TCD exec in an effort to campaign for a Graduate Tax. Redmond, in communication with the Observer denied this, stating;

‘ … to confirm I have not met with the TCD SU executive or anyone else in relation to organising a campaign for any option on the preferendum.’

Today has seen a number of issues with the site itself (covered here by Dave). The problems facing the preferendum include, past students being able to vote and others apparently able to log in as administrators on http://usivote.com. This has been further compounded with Trinity College Dublin having technical difficulties with the login this morning and rumours of DIT scrapping the vote altogether as a response the worrisome lack of integrity of the system. DIT SU president Ciarán Nevin when contacted by the Student Observer stated that,

‘We’re giving USI until the end of today to sort out all issues or we’ll have to consider our position. 

It is a concern of ours that former students are currently able to vote. 

 USI have given assurances that they’ll be able to verify those that are students and will only count their votes. 

This verification is essential as we will only engage in a process which we can stand over. This is an extremely important decision that we are asking our members to make. They should be confident that all possible steps have been taken to protect the integrity of the process.’

Another e-mail that has been doing the rounds on the interweb is reportedly from NUIG SU sent in April stating;

‘Dear all,

Our Executive met earlier today on this issue. We have unanimously decided not to engage with the HEAnet voting proposal.

We feel it is utterly ridiculous to put the single most important issue in higher education to a vote at a time when they are no longer on campus or engaged in college life. Holding the vote at such a time of year will only serve to ensure that we will not receive a decent level of participation from students. The only result of this will be that the USI and the Students’ Unions will be condemned from many sides for failing to properly engage with its members – and justifiably so. Any mandate received will continuously be deemed illegitimate.

The HEAnet voting model does not allow students to be sufficiently informed of the issues surrounding the funding of higher education through debates, campus media, shout-outs and information sessions on campus. On an issue of such central importance to USI, I cannot understand the need to rush this through.

It is worth pointing out that I do not know of any groundswell of popular opinion, such as a positive vote in a class reps council or a referendum, from the student body in any significant number of colleges, which calls for a change in the current USI policy. However, I do recall some 40,000 students being led through Dublin in November under the banner of ‘Stop Fees, Save the Grant’. I similarly don’t recall any current or incoming sabbatical officers in any Students’ Union having been elected to their positions on platforms of supporting a graduate tax or student loans. Therefore I find it hard to see why we are having this rushed vote in the first place. It seems to me that the student leaders want this policy changed more than the students themselves.

It is painfully ironic that we condemn successive governments for refusing to hold referenda and elections on days which are convenient for students to vote, and then we ourselves go and hold a vote – electronically – when student are at least likely to be engaged with their Students’ Union and college life in general. Having an inherently unsuitable vote during the summer is not how our national union should be engaging with our members

Nevertheless, I wish you all well in holding your own HEAnet votes.’

Ironically a vote that has the intention of unifying the student movement with a cohesive policy is proving to be divisive. Many questions were already being asked from the timing of such a vote (as it in exam time for many of the colleges) to the phrasing of the individual options. USI is clearly in trouble here.

More to follow as events unfold.

– Shane Mc Nally

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