By Evan Musgrave
The past fortnight has seen the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) receive over 25,000 letters through the TellYourTD Campaign.
The nationwide drive urges students and the public to lobby their local TDs to cap the college registration fee at its current level of €1500 and protect the student maintenance grant from cuts.
The campaign, which was developed by the USI and NUI Galway SU, has seen a coordinated effort by the USI and students’ unions following a protest march in Dublin city centre at the beginning of is month.
The march, in which approximately 40,000 students took to the streets, was to demonstrate against the planned cuts to the existing student grant scheme and the Government’s proposal to raise the registration fee for students.
The website, www.tellyourtd.com, allows members of the public to send a letter to their local TDs in order to lobby the Government to prioritise education in the upcoming Budget on December 7. The letters, which can also be sent to Táinaiste Mary Coughlan, the Minister of Education and Skills, are currently being processed and sent.
The letter contains a brief introduction and a plea to place an immediate cap on the registration fee, to continue the existing grant and income levels until 2011, to continue the current funding levels in the Student Assistance Fund and to develop a National Graduate Internship Programme in the country.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen had previously said that all areas were being considered for reductions and that no area would be ring-fenced or immune to cuts. Before the student march, the registation fee was expected to double, but the Government has confirmed that this proposal is “off the agenda”. The registration fee is now anticipated to rise by €500-€800.
The USI president Gary Redmond has applauded the work of all those involved with the campaign so far, stating, “the USI is delighted at the exceptional turn-out of over 40,000 people in its national march last week, and now we have ramped up our campaign to protect higher education and Ireland’s future”.
Redmond said that the USI is “fighting tirelessly to ensure that Higher Education is not seen as an easy target for the Budget 2011.” He stressed the Government’s planned budgetary adjustments “will mean the end of a fair and accessible Higher Education system in Ireland. It will also serve to stunt the growth and recovery of the Irish economy”.
Peter Mannion, President of NUI Galway Students’ Union reiterated these concerns, warning that the cuts would “condemn thousands of potential students to look towards emigration or the social welfare offices rather than third-level education”.
Mannion promoted the use of the TellYourTD campaign as a straightforward vehicle for engaging politically in an effective manner. He has urged all “students, families and anyone interested to send a personal letter to their TDs stating that education policy will influence how they vote in the next election”, adding “the Tell Your TD campaign allows anyone who believes that education needs to be protected, to have their voices heard in the lead up to the Budget”.
The protest and subsequent police clashes have made Ireland’s student fees a matter of discussion both in Ireland and in the wider European context.
The USI continues to urge students to “highlight the fact that the today’s students will become the taxpayers of tomorrow, and ultimately the saviours of Ireland’s crumbling economy”.
The Union of Students in Ireland can be reached by phone (017099300) in its offices on 3-4 Agnes Road, Crumlin, Dublin 12 or at Facebook and Twitter.