Students from all over Ireland descended on the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square to march through the city in a demonstration against student fees, on Wednesday the 19th of October. Organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), students voiced their opposition to cuts to third-level education funding and called on the Government to implement a long-term, publicly financed solution.
Despite not being affiliated with USI, UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) led a large group of UCD students in the march from Parnell Street to the Department of the Taoiseach. USI had originally expected a turnout of around 5,000 people, but that figure proved to be wide of the mark, with various estimates putting participation between 12,000 to 15,000 people.
The event was organised as part of the Union of Students in Ireland’s (USI) “Education Is” campaign, which is calling on the government to introduce free third level education, and opposes plans for a student loan scheme. USI’s stance is supported by the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Level Education, which includes SIPTU, Impact, the Teacher’s Union of Ireland, and the National Youth Council of Ireland. USI wanted students to come together to call on the Irish Government and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills to drastically increase third-level funding to colleges, as outlined in the Cassells Report.
“The event was organised as part of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) “Education Is” campaign, which is calling on the government to introduce free third level education”
The Cassells Report laid out three funding options; a predominantly state-funded system, increasing public funding but continuing student fees, or finally a deferred payment of fees through income contingent loans. A primarily state-funded system is sought for as the other options are simply not feasible, according to students. This system would effectively abolish the €3,000 undergraduate student contribution which many struggle to meet.
While USI have welcomed the allocation of €36.5 million to the third level sector in the recent budget they believe that the funding is insufficient, and over €100 million short of what is urgently required. Similarly, UCDSU proposed that the State increase core funding of higher education by €168 million in their pre-Budget submission.
At present, Ireland charges the 2nd highest rate of fees among EU countries in the OECD (after the United Kingdom), and its removal would allow more students to pursue further education. Furthermore, higher education would be free at the point of entry for all first-time EU students and for part-time learners, and may include the possibility of free tuition for postgraduate students.
The march has come at a time when universities and colleges across the country are feeling the detrimental impact of cutbacks to third-level funding. State aid has been reduced consistently in recent years despite the fact that student numbers have increased. Staff student ratios are now above the OCED average, with the Cassells Report estimating a further 29% increase in student numbers by 2028 from the 2013 level. Meanwhile on campus, the UCD library service has seen a drop of 36% in staff numbers, as revealed by the College Tribune.
Alison Graham | News Writer