The Director General of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Jim Miley called on Trinity students this evening to “put pressure on politicians” and make higher education funding a political issue.
Speaking to a Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) town hall meeting, Miley declared that “the state has sat back and refused to make a clear policy position” on funding for higher education. IUA is calling to put a “properly funded and sustainable system in place” and plans to seek increased state funding per student to rectify shortfalls in funding for higher education.
Trinity is among Irish universities across the country that launched the “Save Our Spark” campaign yesterday to call on the government to address funding issues in Ireland’s higher education sector, led by the IUA. The campaign website allows users to contact TDs and members of the Oireachtas Education committee to express their thoughts on higher education funding.
Miley outlined that “our political system has spent the last two and a half years since the Cassells Report” asserting what funding options they feel won’t work, but he asserts that little action has been taken towards making a decision on the funding of higher education.
“The state has sat back and refused to make a clear policy position,” continued Miley. “It has, by stealth, shifted the issue to students.”
TCDSU called the town hall meeting in response to the announcement of Budget 2019. In a statement announcing the meeting, TCDSU argued: “Budget 2019 has completely and totally disregarded and ignored students.”
“We cannot afford to wait any longer and we must take action to secure the future of education in this country,” the statement continued.
Speaking at the town hall, TCDSU President Shane De Ris spoke about the power of students during the Take Back Trinity protests earlier this year and the need for students to take action. “We can’t afford to sit on our hands and wait any longer. The crisis is very real and very urgent”, said De Rís.
Student activist Conchúir Ó Rádaigh suggested that students mobilise to call the government’s attention to the issue and revist approaches that were used during the Take Back Trinity protests in March.
Other suggestions included holding a March for Education similar to marches that have drawn strong crowds in previous years.
Many in the higher education sector have slammed Budget 2019 for what has been deemed an unsatisfactory attempt to address issues facing third level staff and students.
Miley criticised the Budget on the basis that “the bulk of the money is ring-fenced for specific purposes and does not deal with the core funding gap.”
“The promise of a Human Capital Initiative Fund in two years’ time does nothing to address the current funding shortfall,” continued Miley.
An additional €150m is allocated in Budget 2019 for investment in higher education, further education, and research, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue announced last week.
However, many have condemned the setting aside of €500m as a “rainy day fund” elsewhere in the budget in case of a chaotic Brexit, arguing that the funds should instead be directed to students. Union of Students in Ireland (USI) President Síona Cahill stated that students have “felt the brunt of cuts to grants, lack of beds to lay their heads, and the second highest fees in Europe”.
De Rís criticised USI last week for what he termed a weak response by USI to the funding measures for higher education that were outlined in Budget 2019. De Rís said that USI was overly “reserved” in its campaign approach and called on USI to mobilise students as a matter of urgency.
In response, Cahill stated: “We did nothing but slam the government throughout the day on media along with dozens of other organisations in key positions of influence.”
Ahead of the Budget announcements, over 3,000 students from across the country including a strong Trinity cohort marched to Leinster House to demand the government to take immediate and effective steps towards solving the housing crisis.
Speaking to Trinity News, TCDSU President Shane De Rís explained Trinity students marched because “students are suffering as a result of the crisis” and feel they “owe it to those students we sit in class with each day who are suffering”.