It has been no secret that funding for third level education in Ireland has been lacking, but the response to underfunding in Trinity has been yet another exercise in exposing the ambivalence and misplaced priorities of its administration.
In his continuing campaign to secure more funding for College, Provost Prendergast spoke to the Sunday Business Post in September about plans to cut places for over 3,000 Irish students in the next 10 years. He discussed the undeniable funding issues facing Trinity, but at the core of his statements was a somewhat threatening tone toward the future of Irish students in Trinity, and an unflinching acknowledgement of the prioritization of international students and the exorbitant fees they bring in for the college.
USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick referred to this warning as using students as “pawns” in the continuing funding row, condemning the threat to students and the use of international students as “cash cows”. Fitzpatrick is certainly sympathetic to the financial plight faced by Trinity and other universities, noting that the underfunding forces Irish universities to compete with each other rather than cooperate.
This comes in the wake of the news that Trinity fell over 40 places in the world university rankings, the only such drop in the world’s top 200 universities. In an op-ed for the Irish Times, Provost Prendergast attributed the drop seemingly entirely to government funding and strategy, calling for a complete reform of the system through which education is funded in the country.
His claims are not entirely unfounded, either; student admissions have risen disproportionately to staff numbers over the years, and funding has not been accordingly provided to Trinity, nor other Irish universities. State funding per student has indeed fallen from €9,000 to €5,000 per student since 2008, and the ratio of students to staff has almost doubled. This crisis of funding, however, is not the burden of current or future students, nor should it be taken out on them.
The repercussions of the proposed cuts would be drastic for prospective Trinity students, likely driving up CAO points significantly for the increasingly contested spaces available. It’s estimated that the student population of Irish universities will rise by as much as 25,000 by 2030, and the ballooning admissions coupled with College’s proposed cuts will only further Trinity’s elitist and exclusionary reputation. Just as with the ever-increasing international student fees and on-campus rent costs, and the proposed repeat exam fees defeated by Take Back Trinity’s activism just last year, students have been repeatedly made to suffer and foot the bill for poor planning and strategy beyond their control.
When Irish students’ places in Trinity are cut even in the face of continually increasing applications, yet the international students who just happen to pay exponentially more in admission fees remain unchallenged, it exposes the fact that College cares more about students’ financial worth than the education of young people. With Trinity’s rankings dropping rapidly, so too does its coveted reputation as a global university to which students flock, so perhaps the international student community should not be relied upon to ‘save’ the college.
Of course, this is not to say international students have any less of a right to study in Trinity, or that their places should be axed in favour of Irish applicants. Trinity’s global population is an essential part of its thriving college community, and like Fitzpatrick, we at Trinity News have condemned their continued exploitation as cash cows for the university. Neither Irish nor international students should be made to suffer for the ineptitude of government strategy or college administration. With the swell of student activism spreading across Ireland and Trinity in particular, we can be allies to College in addressing its funding issues, but only if we aren’t the ones targeted by their policies moving forward.