USI reaffirms its commitment to free education – now it’s time to fight for it

Aidan Rowe returns with an opinion piece about the USI Preferendum.

In UCD today, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) voted to re-affirm it’s commitment to fighting for “100% Exchequer Funded Education” (or free fees as it’s commonly known). While the voting process was of questionable legitimacy (claims that the process was wide open to fraud, and that non-students were able to vote have yet to be adequately dealt with) and seemed to be consciously timed to stifle democratic debate, this was nonetheless an important victory over neoliberal forces within the student movement; or, perhaps more accurately, a political disaster narrowly averted. Continue reading


Preferendum Podcast – The Crystal Ball

Shane, Leonie, Rob and Eoin discuss the Preferendum, the future of USI and a bit of European politics. This was recorded on 2nd May and it seems we predicted the polarisation of politics in Europe and some issues with USI’s preferendum.

We have decided to bring a tarot deck to the next podcast.

Listen and Enjoy,


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USI Update on USIvote issues

Funding Preferendum 2012
Day 1 Update by the Union of Students in Ireland

To Whom It May Concern

Some issues have been raised by students, Students’ Unions and graduates about
the voting process in the online USI Funding Preferendum.

USI would like to clarify the following issues.

It should be noted from the outset that the system used for authentication is not
software designed for or by USI and is provided by HEAnet, see below for more
How the process works.
The process for students voting is; a student logs on to to cast their vote,
they select their college, they are then transferred over to a server in their college
where they enter their username and password as if they were logging into a
computer on campus. Their college then checks if they are a current student and
provides this along with a unique identifier, not related to their student number, and
transfers the student back to the server to allow them to vote if, and
only if they are a current student. The unique identifier is used to ensure that the
student can only vote once. It is important to point out that USI receives no personal
information about the student at any point in the process as all verification and
generation is carried out by the students’ own college on their servers.

Graduates being able to vote
The process outlined above is a tool called Edugate, provided by HEAnet. HEAnet is
the IT infrastructure provider for all Irish Higher Education Institutions, the Public &
Civil Service including Government Departments and Leinster House. HEAnet
provides Edugate for a number of purposes including verification of student status
used to operate campus car parks, education discounts on computer products such
as the Apple Education Store Discount, online voting in a number of colleges and
the ability to access computers and IT services in another college’s campus.
Each individual college maintains its own database of current students, i.e. the same
database used for registration, examinations etc. It has transpired today a small
number of colleges have not kept their databases up to date and this has allowed
some recent graduates to cast a ballot. As part of the Edugate system each college
is required to keep their database up to date. Only each individual college has
access to its own database.

How this issue is being resolved
Throughout the entire process we have been in constant communication with
HEAnet and as soon as we became aware of this issue, it was immediately brought
to the attention of HEAnet.
As the databases of some colleges still contained students who have graduated, or
progressed to another course using a different student number, some graduates
have been able to vote, and some students who have progressed to another course
have been able to vote twice.

Each of the small number of colleges affected by this issue is now auditing and
updating their databases. At the close of polls, the unique identifier codes for each
ineligible person in the database will be crosschecked against all votes cast. If it is
discovered that any person who not a current registered student has voted, their
identifier code will ensure that their ballot shall be deemed void and not included as
part of the counts.

At no point in this process will the identity or person details of any person be
revealed. This process will not identify any individual student or graduate but will
ensure that only the votes of currently registered students are counted.

Twitpic purporting to show someone has gained access to

Earlier today there were claims that a user had been able to access the
administration panel of the USI voting system.

The USI Voting system is running as three
modules:, and the Edugate connector – these
three systems are completely independent. is the physical website where the pages explaining the
preferendum are located. When a user begins the voting process they move to the module.

Nobody at USI has access to log into the administration of Even it
was possible to log into the administration system of there is no
ability to actually view or tamper with votes.

Secondly, the system also has a safety mechanism built in where it automatically
shuts down and will refuse to accept any updates once the election starts. This
means there is no way to change the election or modify votes once it has begun.
The image posted online earlier showed a view of a status panel for the Edugate
connector. This screen was an online tool used by our web development company to
show which colleges were active on the system. It is a status panel and will not let a
viewer change anything. This panel was used for testing purposes and does not
affect the live vote.

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 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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Legitimacy of USI Preferendum in doubt following revelation of major flaw in voting system

Dave Ryan reports on what is being described as a ‘farcical’ vote.

Word reached The Student Observer at lunchtime today that the ongoing USI ‘Preferendum’, the crucial vote to establish USI’s position on third level funding, has serious flaws in its voting system.

The vote, which has been taking place at , has presented a couple of issues that draw the entire vote into disrepute. The first issue that has been alleged, though I have not personally seen this, is that people are occasionally prompted with other student numbers, which is troubling enough. But the second issue is far more troubling indeed. Continue reading

NUIM ‘rape tape’ protest.

On Thursday April 26th, the Politics and Sociology Society of NUI Maynooth held a show of solidarity outseide the Arts Block with fellow student Jerri Ann O’Sullivan who has found herself at the centre of the Garda Ombudsman’s ‘Rape Comments’ investigation in Rossport.

On a cold, wet, and miserable April afternoon about 30 staff and students of NUI Maynooth gathered outside the Arts Block in a show of solidarity with Jerri Ann O’Sullivan. Jerri Ann, has found herself at the centre of the Garda Rape Comments controversy that the Garda Ombudsman recently ruled on. Chris from the Politics and Sociology society welcomed and thanked everyone that had come out to show their support to Jerri Ann in light of the most recent findings of the Garda Ombudsman; that only one Garda was to face disciplinary action after comments made about rape were captured on camera. Continue reading