By Rory O’Neill, TCD student.
Irish third-level education is facing a big funding crisis. Public funding has been cut extensively since the beginning of the economic crisis, while the student body is expected to have grown by approximately 30% by 2028.
It has been the policy of the government to shift the cost of third-level education on to students themselves. Ruairi Quinn’s infamous pledge not to increase the student contribution was quickly scuttled after the formation of the coalition government in 2011. The registration charge has been gradually raised to €3000 a year.
Now, as the government looks for new answers to Irish education’s funding system, the leaking of the Cassells Report indicates that they will look to a student loan system. The idea that student loans are a benevolent measure designed to assist students and improve access to education is a myth. The purpose of the Cassells Report is to examine new methods of funding Irish education. Any student loan system will be for the purpose of facilitating a dramatic increase in student fees.
This should come as bad news to all current and future students in Ireland. Wherever third-level loans have been introduced, the result has been to saddle students with a pile of debt upon completion of their degree. The average student in the United States will graduate with over $25000 in debt. There has been speculation about the possibility of raising fees here to as high as €16000.
Students Against Fees is a campaign group formed in Trinity College Dublin to fight the introduction of student loans and any accompanying increase in fees. The campaign’s first goal was to win the university’s Students’ Union to an anti-fees and anti-loans position – a position which had been rejected by SU Council earlier in the year. In December, however, after weeks of campaigning, a second, more radical motion brought to Council members of the group was nearly unanimously passed. This means that TCD SU is now mandated to oppose and campaign against the introduction of student loans and any increase in fees.
This is an important victory for any prospective movement against student loans. The Students’ Union is the body with the most resources and mobilising capacity at its disposal. But if it is to be successful, this is only a start.
Last year we saw a current of student activism across the globe, most notably in Amsterdam where there was a major occupation in protest at the corporatisation of education. Here in Ireland, students in NCAD successfully fought for the resignation of their college’s Director and highlighted the corrosive effect of austerity on students’ education. 2016 should be a year of wide-scale student mobilisation and activism in Ireland. The victory in Trinity should encourage students in other colleges and universities across the country to start organising and discussing how to fight back against the government’s ongoing attacks on education. When students unite and organise, they can win.