Recently, Education Minister Ruarí Quinn and Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that third-level fees will have reached €3,000 by 2015. Coupled with the recent removal of the maintenance grant for Post-Graduate degrees, this measure comes as a serious blow to current and prospective students.
The same week as this revelation, FEE held a forum for students and others to come and speak about how the cuts have been affecting them. There were young people who had been forced to drop out because they could no longer afford to support themselves, graduates who have been forced to sign on, and students whose siblings will not get the opportunities that they have had. The Government claims that a registration fee in conjunction with a grants system does not create an inequality of access. Clearly, they are mistaken. The grant has been cut by 13% over the last three years, and for many students it has been cut by as much as 60%. Now, the maintenance grant for students who wish to begin a post-graduate degree in 2012 is gone. Support for the payment of fees will only be provided for those from
families within a new, further restricted income band. There is an increasing disparity in who is capable of pursuing a university education in this country, and the actions of the Government are antagonising the situation.
An Taoiseach claims that these measures are necessary to improve the quality of our suffering education system, asserting that “a really strong and vibrant third-level system is fundamental…and it’s got to be paid for.” However, alongside the increases funding for third-level institutions will be cut by
a total of 6% over the next three years. In combination with rising student numbers, we are essentially being asked to pay much more, for far less. The money being squeezed from students and their families every year is, like all austerity measures, being used to service the massive private debt the Irish people have been burdened with. Mr Kenny attempted to justify this injustice by declaring that austerity is affecting “every single person in the country” – he earns over €300,000 per annum in total, over 8.9 times the average industrial wage.
On Monday the 13th of February, the class reps council voted in favour of a number of motions that mandated the SU Executive to consider a number of new tactics in the fight against education cuts. Presented by Equality Officer William O’Brien, they included occupations of university buildings, a
student strike, and a mass boycott of fees. This progressive move marked a significant turning point in the attitude of the NUIG SU. Evidently, they have come to the conclusion that their traditional methods of sporadic marches and lobbying have failed. With a clear majority in favour of these actions it is now vital that all students come together as a cohesive movement. We must mobilise to protect our fundamental rights and to resist those in Government, the IMF, and the ECB, who wish to compel us to inherit a future of desolation, or emigration.