This afternoon, over 200 students across Ireland joined a virtual protest hosted by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) via Zoom to protest student fees in Ireland.
Conducted entirely virtually, students participating in the protest were asked to Tweet their local TDs and use the hashtag #EducationForAll calling for representatives to support the campaign launched by USI.
The protest was organised in order to call for an end to the €3,000 Student Contribution Charge, which USI deems “the highest fee for an undergraduate degree in the EU”, as well as to campaign for “urgent action on student accommodation issues” and “other areas blocking access to higher education in Ireland”.
Prior to the protest, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) president Eoin Hand stated that the event was “a statement from all students in Ireland, that we are sick of paying the highest fees in Europe, that we are sick of thin and weak renters rights, and we are sick of being forgotten”.
“The pandemic has exacerbated financial inequalities, have left students behind in the government’s view, and have left thousands of students paying for accommodation that could not be used and a bedroom education,” he continued.
As speakers throughout the protest emphasised, students in higher education in Ireland currently pay the highest fees for education in Europe. Ellen Fearon, president of National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland (NUS USI), stated that in universities in Northern Ireland particularly, fees for English and Welsh students are capped at £9250–the highest in Europe for “domestic students”, and Northern Irish students pay £4,395 per year.
Fees for international students in Ireland are even higher, and several speakers at the event stated that international students are treated as “cash cows” by institutions.
USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick said also that higher education is “critically underfunded”, claiming that even prior to the pandemic, higher education should have been afforded €500 million per year to keep the system afloat.
In the current circumstances, which Fitzpatrick notes the impending possibility of an economic recession, she urged that students suffering from unemployment and unnecessary rent fees due to the pandemic should receive even more government support.
Labour Party Councillor in Dublin City Council, Kevin Donoghue, claimed that “access to third-level is a class issue”, stating that “access isn’t about going to college; it’s about making the choice about whether you want to go to college”, and that regardless of one’s choice to pursue higher-level education, one should be granted a living wage in the workforce.
He highlighted that “learning for learning’s sake” should not be stigmatized and that rather, any higher education should be recognised regardless of a student’s later contribution to society.
Fearon also warned against treating “education as a commodity”, reinstating that students should not be treated as “cash cows”. She explained that only a small proportion of students in Northern Ireland are ever able to pay off student debts.
During the virtual protest, #EducationForAll trended number 1 on Twitter, with many students voicing their support for the campaign. One student tweeted at the Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research Simon Harris, saying: “@SimonharrisTD Students can’t afford to pay 3000 euro per year & many rely on the assistance of their family, and many work full time to support themselves & their education. Higher Education NEEDS to be prioritised. The Government needs to provide #EducationForAll”.
Other students joined the discussion appealing to TDs, with one student saying: “do politicians actually realise that ; STUDENTS ARE NOT AFFLUENT GROUPS. We will absolutely cost you your seat if you choose to ignore us. #EducationForAll”.
Also using the hashtag #EducationForAll, students highlighted the difficulties they face in funding their day to day lives. One student stated: “life as a student in this country is HELL. We have no government level support, DESPITE having a dedicated minister for higher education. We are left to tread water and be milked for all the money we have, only to get nothing in return #EducationForAll #OideachasDoChách”.
Students were urged to continue tweeting throughout the evening to garner support for the protest.
Additional reporting by Connie Roughan.