This week Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and other Irish university groups are marching for increased higher education funding and student rights.
Several events are being held in the lead up to the “#EducationIs Taking to the Streets March” on Wednesday October 19 at 1pm, which the USI hopes will make a final, collective student stance against the government’s insufficient funding and support for higher education. They are also promoting this week’s events on social media with the hashtag #EducationIs.
An online USI petition received 10,000 signatures last week supporting their stance against the Cassells Report and its recommendation for an Irish student loan system. However, the USI wants more students to attend the march in order to make a physical ‘stand’ against the introduction of student loans.
The Cassells Report, led by Peter Cassells, was commissioned by the previous government coalition to review higher education funding in Ireland. It was released in July and concluded that the current system is “simply not fit for purpose” and thus advised three alternative funding options.
One is for a state-funded system, the second is increased state-funding with continuing student fees and third is for decreased state-funding with deferred payment of fees through income-contingent loans. The USI, students’ unions around Ireland and some political parties have rejected the student loan scheme.
Last week’s Budget didn’t advocate a loan system but there is no guarantee that the government won’t revoke this position in the future, especially if students don’t make a stand now, according to the organisers of the march.
The Budget did promise positive changes to higher education, including a €36.5m investment and a further three-year funding package worth around €160m supporting skills, apprenticeships, and access programmes. This aims to support the 3,000 students from lower-income or disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education, ensuring their access to education is protected.
Reflecting on the Budget and the upcoming march USI President Annie Hoey told Trinity News she “welcomes” the investment in education because these “small steps in the Budget are in the right direction, but are hugely insufficient in the long-term. The government’s failing to prioritise adequate funding for third-level education is the government putting barriers to the futures and potential of thousands of students. There are some positives in the budget but the funding is still inadequate and won’t solve the rotating problems currently in third-level education.”
TCDSU President Kieran McNulty is hosting two events in Trinity to gain momentum for the march and USI’s #EducationIs movement. This will kick off with Monday’s Placard-Making Workshop in the SU Kitchen at 6pm, and the week will close with a free live concert co-hosted by Metropolis and Elderbrook in Trinity College Chapel from 6pm to 9pm.
Trinity Ents are hosting the event and there is a separate free drinks reception with a DUDJ set in The Atrium, which will run until 10pm. Though still a free event, the Metropolis Concert is now a ticketed event due to demand.
McNulty reacted positively to the Budget’s €36.5m investment but echoed President Hoey’s sentiments: “It is not nearly enough to keep the higher education sector going. The Government may speak reams about open consultation on the future of higher education funding and making a long-term strategy, but it is very unclear what this decision will be. It is on us to prove to the government that education needs prioritising and supporting – for the students who suffer the most and may suffer more under the new proposals given by Cassells. Wednesday’s march is a chance to make it crystal clear to Minister Bruton that this issue isn’t going away.”
The #EducationIs March will commence gather from 1pm at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square and will continue down O’Connell Street, Pearse Street, and around Merrion Square to the Daíl on Kildare Street, where several event organisers will be speaking on #EducationIs.
Those speaking include Trinity student Carly Bailey, Irish Second-Level Student’s Union President Jane Hayes, President Hoey, and Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubberbandits.
Attendance is projected to reach 5,000 students from colleges across Ireland and Northern Ireland, which University College Dublin, Dublin Institute of Technology, Queen’s University Belfast, St Mary’s University College Belfast as well as students from the National Union of Students Scotland. Other supporters of the campaign who will be joining the march include Equate, Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association, See Change, SpunOut, National Parents’ Council and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Youth.