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Repeat fees hike to boost NUIG coffers by €200,000

Dara Bradley

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The cost to students of NUI Galway who fail exams and have to repeat has increased by more than 50% this year.

Students repeating examinations this summer were hit with a €100 increase in repeat exams’ fees – the new rate is €295.

NUIG hopes to raise €200,000 from the measure.

The fees hike was fiercely resisted by student leaders but was agreed following a vote by Údarás na hOllscoile, the university’s governing authority, which is responsible for managing and controlling all affairs of NUIG.

The issue of increasing fees on repeat exams was divisive, and split the Governing Body.

According to minutes of the Governing Body’s December meeting, “strong views” were put forward for and against the fees increase.

“Exchanges were heated at times and the discussion often circulatory as both sides of the argument were explored,” the minutes record.

The minutes were released to the Galway City Tribune under Freedom of Information (FOI).

The President of the Students Union, who was then Phelim Kelly, was supported by some members when he said the “proposed increase in repeat examination fees was simply a revenue raising measure to take advantage of the misfortune of students”.

The university Bursar pointed out the projected income from repeat exams was about €200,000, which was “3% of the €7 million loss of income which the university was endeavouring to manage”.

Some members at the meeting said repeat exams “imposed a high administrative burden” on NUIG, and they “questioned whether the fees were high enough to incentivise examination pass rates.”

Cathaoirleach of the Governing Body, Catherine McGuinness, according to the minutes, said NUIG failure rates were “too high”, which was “due in part at least to some students not applying themselves to their study”.

Two members were “outraged” by this comment and repeated the view that the fee increase was “opportunistic and insensitive”.

The meeting was told that if the increase was not passed, they would have to find €200,000 “via other cuts”.

There was a “strong statement” from the An Meabhránaí (registrar) and Uachtarán Ionaid (deputy president), who said the university, “was not profiteering from students and that some students were strategically defaulting on their fees”.

A proposal was put to the meeting that the proposed fees increase be rejected. Ten members voted in favour and 17 voted against.

A subsequent motion to increase the fee by €100, bringing it to €295 was then passed. The motion included ‘free remission’ measures in the order of €100-€200 for disadvantaged students. Some 20 approved the motion and six voted against.

However, that was not the end of the matter and it was raised again at the following February meeting.

The SU President claimed the December minutes “omitted to make full reference to remarks made by An Cathaoirleach in relation to high examination failure rates”.

The secretary said the minutes captured the views expressed and that minutes were not supposed to be stenographic.

Mr Kelly said that he found the chairperson’s comments at the previous meeting, in relation to student failure rates, to be “personally distressing” and it was “not appropriate” for a chairperson to make those remarks.

The minutes were then altered to show: “One of the members who expressed outrage at the comment was of the view that the comment should not have been expressed”.

Under matters arising from the minutes, Mr Kelly referred to a letter he had received from the university Bursar relating to fees. The letter was “cold and stark”, he said.

“He stated he was being put in an invidious position with his membership,” the minutes state of student voice, Mr Kelly.

NUIG President, Jim Browne said he understood his point of view but the matter “had been decided and was therefore closed”.

Following a discussion, Mr Browne offered to meet with the Student Union Council to “appraise members” of the decision to increase repeat fees.

At a subsequent strategic planning committee meeting, Mr Kelly said it was “insulting” for him that he could not raise the issue of repeat fees on the Governing Body agenda.

He said students were “deeply unhappy with the increase in fees” and the Students Union would return to the issue after the Summer repeats are finished.

CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council turns down Mad Yolk Farm site

Dara Bradley

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An application to retain farming-related development on a site in Roscam has been turned down by Galway City Council.

The local authority has refused to grant retention permission to applicant Brian Dilleen for subsurface piping to be used for agricultural irrigation at ‘Mad Yolk Farm’ on Rosshill Road.

It also refused permission for the retention of a bore-hole well, water pump and concrete plinth; and two water holding tanks for 6,500 litres; and other associated site works.

In its written decision, the Planning Department at City Hall said: “The proposed development, would if permitted, facilitate the use of the site for the provision of sixty 15.5m high seed beds, which have been deemed by the planning authority not to be exempted development.

“Therefore a grant of permission for the proposed development would facilitate the unauthorised development and usage on the site, contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.”

The site has been the subject of enforcement action by the local authority.

A lengthy Appropriate Assessment Screening report, submitted with the planning application, concluded “beyond reasonable scientific doubt, in view of the best scientific knowledge, on the basis of objective information and in light of the conservation objectives of the relevant European sites, that the proposed retention and development, individually or in combination with other plans and projects, has not and will not have a significant effect on any European site”.

A borehole Impact Assessment Report concluded that the proposed retention development “on the hydraulic properties of the aquifer is considered negligible”.

It said that there was “no potential for significant effects on water quality, groundwater dependent habitats or species associated with any European site”.

Six objections were lodged by neighbours, including one from the Roshill/Roscam Residents Association, which argued the Further Information submitted by the applicant did “little to allay our concerns” about the impact of the development on an “extremely sensitive site”.

The applicant has until June 29 to appeal the decision to An Bórd Pleanála.

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CITY TRIBUNE

NUIG student accommodation firm records loss

Enda Cunningham

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The property company which operates student accommodation on behalf of NUI Galway recorded a €3.4 million increase in turnover in 2019.

However, Atalia Student Residences DAC (Designated Activity Company), which is owned by the university, recorded a loss for the year of €6,300.

Accounts for the company for the year ended August 31, 2019, show that while there was a loss, retained profits are at more than €1.6 million. The accounts are the most up to date available from the Companies Registration Office.

The previous year, the company made a profit of more than €460,000.

Atalia Student Residences operates the 764-bed Corrib Village apartment complex and the 429-bed Goldcrest Village.

The figures show that the company’s overall turnover jumped by 52% – from €6.4m to €9.8m.

Turnover for accommodation services was up from €5.2m to €8.4m; and from conferences and events was up from €850,000 to €1.1m. Turnover from shops was down from almost €328,000 to €290,000.

Outside of the academic year, both complexes are used as accommodation for conference delegates, while Corrib Village is also used for short-term holiday lets.

The accounts show fixed assets – including fixtures and fittings, plant and machinery and office equipment – valued at €1.5m. Its current assets were valued at more than €7m, including ‘cash at bank and in hand’ of almost €6.9m (up from €5.6m last year).

The company owed creditors €6.9m, including €5.2m in deferred income.

It employed 38 people (which includes its five directors) last year, up from 31 the previous year.

As well as operating the student accommodation complexes, the company also markets conference facilities and services on behalf of the university.

It pays rent to NUIG but the figure is not included in the company accounts. In 2018, the rent figure was just over €2.25m.

In Corrib Village, a single bedroom with a private en suite for the academic year costs €5,950. For Goldcrest Village, the figure is €6,760.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Call for two-way cycling under Galway City outdoor dining plan

Dara Bradley

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Bike users want the local authority to examine the introduction of two-way cycling on one-way city centre streets.

Galway Cycling Campaign has again called for cycling to be allowed both ways. It comes as Galway City Council prepares to cordon-off parts of city centre streets to traffic, and make Dominick Street Lower one-way, to facilitate outdoor dining.

The cycling organisation said that the proposed pedestrianisation plan at the Small Crane, and the one-way system on Dominick Street, will result in lengthy diversions for people on bikes.

It has pointed out that school children and their guardians who cycle along Raleigh Row, and turn right towards Sea Road, will probably continue to do so even when the Small Crane is cordoned off to traffic, because the alternative route – via Henry Street – is too long a detour.

Similarly, it has been suggested that food-delivery services on bikes are unlikely to go the ‘long way round’ via Mill Street and New Road to get from Bridge Mills to restaurants on Dominick Street and would be tempted to cycle the ‘wrong way’ down the proposed one-way street or on the footpath.

Shane Foran, committee member of Galway Cycling Campaign, said now would be an ideal time to introduce two-way cycling on some one-way streets.

“It’s not controversial,” insisted Mr Foran. “It’s a general principle in other countries, if you are putting in new traffic arrangements, you would try and keep access for people on bikes.”

The regulation is contained in the National Cycle Policy Framework 2009; and a specific objective was contained in two of the most recent previous City Development Plans.

He said a former minister and Galway West TD, the late Bobby Molloy, had the vision to change the legislation in the late 1990s – but it hasn’t yet been embraced here.

“Bobby Molloy, who couldn’t be classed as an eco warrior, changed the law in 1998, so that it is available to local authorities to put up a sign granting an exemption from restrictions for people cycling on one-way streets.

“The road stays one-way for cars, and two ways for bicycles. Clearly that’s not going to be a sensible to do everywhere, like Merchants’ Road. In those situations, you might need a cycle track or lane to segregate people from traffic.

“But if it’s a low traffic street, with low speeds or relatively lower volumes of cars, then it should be possible for people on bicycles to cycle in both directions and still have it one-way for cars, without it being a major safety issue. It works in other countries,” said Mr Foran.

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