Sunday, 11 December 2011

DCU Students Vote For Free Education For Everyone - DCU SU Call A Recount

After a mandate from DCU's Class Rep Council, a historic referendum was held in DCU this week to ask students their opinion on how higher education should be funded in Ireland. The original mandate put before the council had four options for students to vote on, but left out the option of a "fully free education system" funded through progressive taxation. During a rigorous debate, FEE DCU fought hard to have this option put on the ballot paper, however council voted to have a "less ideological" question regarding free education. Finally,  the question “Would you agree with a fully free higher level education system that is funded fully through the conventional taxation system?” was put on the ballot.

FEE DCU campaigned hard on campus during the week, discussing with students our vision of a fully free education system and how this could be funded through taxation. We pointed out to students that a simple 2.5% increase in corporation tax would raise €640 million per year, well over the suggested €500 million extra per year that the Hunt Report suggests that we need to fund higher education by 2020.

On Friday evening the results were announced. They were as follows;
Total poll: 1238
Spoils: 91
Total Valid Poll: 1147
#1: Full Tuition Fees - 50 votes
#2: Graduate Tax - 80 votes
#3: Student Loan - 145 votes
#4: Cap Reg Fee at €2000 - 399 votes
#5: Fully Free Education System - 472 votes

This democratic vote means that DCU SU are mandated to build a campaign to fight for a fully free education system. However no sooner was the result announced and a recount had been called by the returning officer. The reason given for this recount was given in an email to FEE DCU. It stated " Because a violation of Article 9 of the DCUSU Constitution: 'Elections and Referenda' has occurred, I have called a full recount which will begin at 10am on Monday" Article states: "The counting procedures shall be in accordance with the system of proportional representation by the single transferable vote method".

It seems logical that if counting of the votes was conducted in an incorrect manner, then nobody could dispute a recount. However, when one realises that DCU students were informed that they would be voting in a system of proportional representation where only their first preference counted, the farcical nature of the electoral committee's actions were exposed.

DCU's referendum website and their referendum information campaign advised students how to vote. It stated " There are five questions on the ballot paper. You may express your vote on the ballot paper in one of two ways. The funding model with the greatest first preference wins. If you wish you can also express a second, third, fourth and fifth preference. The additional preferences will not carry, but will instead allow the Students’ Union to better measure the spectrum of opinion, strengthening our lobbying argument.

FEE DCU spoke with both the returning officer and the DCU SU President before the campaign got under way. We were  assured that the counting method was to be PR, and not PRSTV. This is what we advised our campaign team, and it is how we advised people to vote. As we were told that 2nd, 3rd and 4th preferences would not affect the result, we never asked people for any other preference than their 1st. For the electoral committee to now call for a recount under the PRSTV system, despite the fact that students were not advised that this method would be used to count the votes is outrageous in the extreme. This type of election scamming would not be out of place in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

Whilst we accept that the constitution states that counting should be conducted by PRSTV, the fact is that this referendum was a PR referendum, with students advised by DCU SU that only 1st preference votes would count. The result of the first count conducted on Friday is the real result. Any attempt to now recount the votes using a system that students were not advised of before casting their vote is in our view legally wrong. FEE DCU will be seeking legal clarification on this matter and has urged the returning officer not to go ahead with this recount.

We Only Want The Earth (And Free Education for Everyone)


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