Sensationalism allows USI to be ignored

The slogan the USI has chosen for tomorrow’s march – “Education not Emigration” – is just the latest instance of poor communication from this organisation.

According to their website, the aim of the march is threefold. They wish to protect the maintenance grant, to prevent an increase in the registration fee, and for government to set up an internship system for graduates.

Do the USI want us to march against emigration, or for the aims they have stated? Their argument is that if the maintenance grant is cut and the registration fee lowered, students will be forced to drop out of college, or not enroll in the first place. The line goes that even those who do struggle through will graduate with slim prospects of employment, due to the lack of a government-sponsored internship system. The USI believes that these young people will then be “forced” to emigrate.

Is emigration such a large problem? Figures for this year are not yet available, but for last year up until April 2009, the figure for Irish nationals emigrating was 18,400, less than a third of the full figure for emigration (65,100). One can assume then that the bulk of emigrants were migrant workers returning to their country of origin.

While there has been an increase in the emigration level for this year, it seems far too early to claim that it is a crisis. The USI claims that 1000 graduates leave the country each week, but it is unclear how they reached this figure. Even if the full 18,400 Irish emigrants last year were all graduates, it’s difficult to believe rates could have increased so drastically in such a short space of time.

USI’s fondness for hyperbole is not helping their case. Over the summer, their comparison of today’s emigration with emigration levels during the Famine made many spectators cringe. They held a photocall where caricatures of government officials pushed students onto a Famine ship. Rather than making government sit up and take notice, this stunt only served to showcase their lack of understanding of historical events, and their fondness for sensationalism.

Other recent press releases have also been a source of embarrassment. That of October 16 was particularly memorable, given that the first line was “The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has slammed the Government for forcing students to work as strippers, sugar babies and escorts.” The press release was in response to a Sunday Independent article, which stated that increasing numbers of young people were earning money by working as escorts, though no figures were given and this statement seemed to be based mainly on anecdotes.

The framing of USI’s response was so ridiculous that their point was lost. Once again, rather than highlighting the fact that the cost of living is rising, and students are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, the USI set themselves up to be ignored.

We wish the USI well in their march tomorrow, but are concerned that rather than acting as a rallying point, their slogan confuses and dilutes their message. And at this current time, we cannot afford to be represented by an organisation that allows us to be ignored.