USI calls for supports for students in the upcoming academic year

In a press release, the union called on government to create a scheme that will give students access to devices and better WiFi to facilitate blended learning

Yesterday evening, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) called for “key supports” for students in the upcoming academic year, following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

USI has called for government to support students who will be expected to work remotely for most of the new academic year, by creating and investing in a new scheme which provides access to devices and better WiFi connections.

The USI has also again outlined several matters it says need to be addressed immediately to stop students living in poverty.

This includes the stipend for postgraduate students being brought up to at least a living wage, as stipends are currently below the minimum wage.

The USI is calling for a plan to fully publicly fund higher education to be prepared in light of the funding gaps left by the over-reliance on private income such as international student fees and student accommodation. 

USI stated: “International students bring much more than funding to our education system and should never be treated as mere funding sources.”

USI stated that a €500 reduction must be made to the Student Contribution Charge immediately to ease some of the financial pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the beginning of July, USI published a document that it presented to Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, outlining the union’s “priorities for the new government” and what students need in light of the pandemic.

In this document, USI called for “an immediate reduction” of the student contribution charge by €500, as well as the elimination of the residency criteria on the free fees initiative.

In the press release yesterday evening, USI claimed they are calling for the urgent reduction in the Student Contribution Charge in light of the economic difficulties facing students who lost have jobs, had summer work hours reduced and were placed on a lower Pandemic Unemployment Payment because they were only working part-time during the academic year.

USI stated: “The €3000 charge is the most expensive fee in the European Union to access an undergraduate course.”

The union stated that they will continue to campaign for the abolishment of the Student Contribution Charge and the introduction of publicly funded third-level education.

USI President, Lorna Fitzpatrick explained that this €500 reduction is needed now to prevent many students not being able to go back to college or starting the new year facing financial hardship.

Fitzpatrick said: “We have been calling for this reduction for a number of years now, but we feel that it is more urgent now than ever. We feel it cannot wait and must be done ahead of the new academic year, but if not, then in Budget 2021 by the absolute latest.”

“It is not right that students have to struggle to pay the same fees when there is such uncertainty about their future,” Fitzpatrick continued.

Fitzpatrick explained that USI conducted a research survey a few months previous  to understand how Covid-19 was impacting students, with one of the key recommendations from this research was provisions be put in place for students who do not have access to devices or have poor WiFi. 

Fitzpatrick stated: “There also must be extra financial supports made available for for students through SUSI, the Student Assistance Fund and other funds that support access.”

“The majority of students who would have worked full-time over the summer to support themselves through college now are in receipt of the reduced Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) of €203 per week,” Fitzpatrick explained. “Many students entering third level straight from secondary school who are or were under 18 were not eligible to receive PUP.”

“At a time of economic recession, investment in higher education can act as a great tool to stimulate economic growth with every €1 of investment adding up to €4 to the economy,” she added

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.