The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has today published its Student General Election Manifesto in anticipation of this years voting. The manifesto targets issues faced by students and young people both inside and outside of third-level environments, and in addition has a broad range of social demands which would affect a wider demographic.
In his introductory statement to the manifesto, president of the USI Kevin Donoghue states that “since the economic crash of 2008 our education system continues to be seriously under-funded”.
Citing reduced household incomes, increases in rental prices and the dominance of the part-time employment market, Donoghue states that there is an increasing contrast between the rising costs of attending college and the stagnation in increases in student supports.
“The next Government should seek to follow the example of most of our EU partners and introduce free, publicly funded education”, ends the statement.
Of the core asks to the next government, a complete rejection of any introduction of a student loan system or increase in third-level fees is put forward. In December a motion to oppose increases in student fees and the introduction of a loan system were passed at TCDSU council, following the establishment of a Students Against Fees group.
The reinstatement of the non-adjacency rates for mature students and those living on islands along with travel passes for maintenance grant recipients and the reinstatement of the post-grad maintenance grant make the financial demands when it comes to grants. One important proposal of note is a review of how estrangement from parents or guardians when applying for grants is examined.
The issues of fees and grants are sure to weigh heavily on student voters minds in the run up to the election and the final recommendations of the Cassells group on the funding of higher education. In December reports emerged in the Irish Times that the group would recommend the introduction of a loan system, along with the increase of fees to €4,000 per annum.
How the student grant system would factor into these plans is unknown, but the continuing scaling back of the system does not show signs of stopping.
With students often times living away from home for the first time, they may not have knowledge of their rights as tenants. In order to strengthen student positions, the USI is proposing that the next government amend the Residential Tenancies Act to allow for students’ unions “to have legal standing to challenge on behalf of their membership the introduction of new rents in purpose built student accommodation centres, where those rents are raised outside of term time.” The use of NAMA properties is proposed alongside the request that the government create a Student Housing Strategy.
The precarious nature of work faced by students both inside and outside the academic world is also being challenged in the manifesto, with the USI demanding a dismantling of the JobBridge system and amendment to the laws surrounding working hours to help those on zero-hours contracts.
Following in line with more localised campaign groups like the one established by TCDSU, the USI manifesto requests that the next government commits to holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, and a repeal of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. They also call for the government to repeal laws which restrict information on travelling for the purposes of securing an abortion and other “censorship laws”.