Is there a national student movement?

DCU’s students – or those who voted in a referendum on the issue – have decided not to re-affiliate to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). The vote was decisive, with around 70 per cent rejecting the proposal.

Back in the 1970s when I was a student in Dublin, all students of all the universities were members of USI. Now, apart from DCU, two other major institutions are not affiliated. What are the implications, particularly as USI tries to construct an anti-fees campaign? Does it speak for the national student body? Is such a a voice needed today, or has the time for such things passed?

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10 Comments on “Is there a national student movement?”

  1. Keith Says:

    I voted no for the simple reason of cost. An extra €5 on top of other fees did not seem warranted and then DCUSU wanted an extra €3 on top of that for ‘training and attending USI meetings’. Looked like just another fee/tax on people trying to best deal with tough times. Unions seem to be a throwback from the industrial age, with the technology available to us now we can organise against issues rapidly and with little warning. We have the tools, just no leadership.

  2. Myles Says:

    There is a need for a national union, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t see the need for USI as a result of its current role.

    Basically it’s the PR wing of the student movement (to the extent that one exists). It easily could be replaced with a basic computer programme:

    “USI (slam/hits out/warns/criticises) the goverment over (registration fee/grants/student support bill/housing.

    Insert quote from the President.”

    Since 1996, it’s consistently failed to prevent increases in the registration fee, never mind abolishing it (which is USI policy).

    A unions strength lies in its collective membership, not in a handful of full-time offers who only use the membership as a backdrop for a photoshoot.

  3. copernicus Says:

    The UK NUS president Aaron Porter is a fulltime appointee and a member of the Labour Party with Parliament election ambitions. The UCU secretary Sally Hunt in the UK is similarly a full-time appointee and my personal opinion is that she does not know enough about the working of different kinds of universities in the UK.

    I recall an incidence When I was a member of a union in Scotland. The supremo of the union once arrived and stayed in a 5 -star hotel and it was for us the trech people to go to his hotel and invite him to address us at the university. I was a member of a posse that went to the hotel reception and our presence was communicated to the supremo. He asked the receptionist to tell us that he will be down to meet us in a few seconds and we wited for 30 min to get the audition from this man and he did not apologise for his lateness. I cut my membership card then and stayed outside the union’s shackle since then.

    • wendymr Says:

      Actually, Sally Hunt is elected by UCU membership, not appointed – and I would guess that the same is true of the NUS national president.

      • copernicus Says:

        Does it matter? They are full-time, in the case of NUS national president , his allegiance is to the Labour Party and Sally Hunt knows very little about pre-92 , post-92 and new unversities.

        • wendymr Says:

          It matters in that there is a huge difference between being elected and being appointed. Being elected means being answerable to an electorate, and having to stand again for election at the end of a term – just as politicians do.

          As for Sally, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken to her, but in the years when I did know her I didn’t get any sense that she lacked understanding of either pre- or post-92 universities.

  4. Eoin Says:

    The USI has become a bureaucratic behemoth, that is totally out of touch with its original aim – which was the protection of the interests of its members. Students dont see them, and dont see its worth. UCCSU as far as i know spend nearly 70,000 a year on it and we see almost nothing of that.

    There are a core of ‘student activists’ in Ireland who see it promarily as an addition to their CV and wont touch it as a result; because of this, I for one am glad that DCU have disaffiliated.

    As for the issue of unions in general, they exist to protect a group of individuals from the harsher effects of an unequal power relationship in negotiations over the terms of a contract/relationship. Corporation/state versus individual worker, university versus student etc…. unfortunately the USI is useless in its current form.

  5. copernicus Says:


    I have to completely disagree, and particualrly about Sally Hunt.

  6. Mark Dowling Says:

    “Back in the 1970s when I was a student in Dublin, all students of all the universities were members of USI. Now, apart from DCU, two other major institutions are not affiliated.”

    I believe, but am willing to stand corrected, that UL has never been in USI. Certainly I was proud to oppose affiliation efforts while a student there in the 90s. We had no interest in joining an organisation that spent much of its time arguing on general political issues rather than prioritising those of most direct interest to students.

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