The Union of Students in Ireland (USI), alongside the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI), has launched its ‘I Value Education’ campaign to promote free access to higher education in Ireland.
The campaign is part of USI’s larger #EducationIs coalition against threats to publicly funded higher education. The ‘I Value Higher Education’ campaign invites students, their families and teachers to sign an online petition in support of the campaign. The unions are also encouraging students to raise the issue of higher education with candidates canvassing for the upcoming general election.
The campaign comes after severe cuts in funding to the higher education sector since the start of the recession. Since 2008, the total cut in funding has been 32%, which amounts to over €428.3 million. Student tuition fees for undergraduate courses have also increased to €3,000 per year. In addition to this, there has been a 20% increase in the number of students enrolling in higher education courses between 2008–2014, while staffing numbers have been reduced by 2,000.
Furthermore, USI has said that the loan scheme recently proposed by the government would deter students from applying to college and place significant individualised debt on students at the beginning of their careers. According to the campaign, these factors are having a huge effect on both the functionality and quality of the higher education sector.
In a press release from USI, Kevin Donoghue, USI President, said: “USI is proud to join with TUI on the ‘I Value Higher Education’ campaign which seeks to promote the value of higher education in Irish society. The campaign acknowledges higher education as a central function within the social, cultural and economic fabrics of Irish society. It… calls for equality of access to higher education opportunities and the provision of clear progression routes to enable lifelong learning; and advocates for the resourcing of a higher education infrastructure which can best meet contemporary national and international challenges and demands.”
Aidan Kenny, Assistant General Secretary at TUI, also welcomed the joint campaign: “Higher education, as a public good, should be funded collectively by society through general taxation, corporation tax and a higher education levy. The market model of student loan schemes is not appropriate; it places an unacceptable individual debt burden on students and commodifies higher education into a product.”