Our Classist Free Education System

Ireland claims free fees and yet some cannot afford university. Ruth Murphy looks at the realities of Ireland’s education system. 

While Ireland may boast free education up to third level, the reality is a lot more complicated. It is simply not true that people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds have the same access to education as their richer neighbours.

The difference in education can start as early as primary school, or even earlier where wealthier parents are able to afford to send their children to Montessori and after school lessons while others cannot. This early education is simply not an option for many families.

Ireland’s array of fee-paying schools regularly top the tables as the best schools in the country. The best schools are measured based on what percentage of their students go on to third-level which is not a fair method, but such criticism belongs in another article. You might point out that there are a few non-fee-paying schools that make it into these rankings. However, many of these non-fee-paying schools are situated in wealthy areas and so to attend the school your family would probably require a certain amount of money to live in the area. Also, as there is a much greater number of non-fee-paying schools in Ireland by sheer numbers it would be difficult for fee-paying schools to entirely dominate the top of these tables.

Many schools request “voluntary” contributions from parents in order to fund sports facilities or new buildings, much like UCD’s student centre levy

Funding for the facilities of fee-paying schools as well as schools with free fees but in affluent areas are an issue. Schools in more affluent areas can raise funds more easily as parents have more money and events hosted in the area may gather more funds. Recently it was highlighted that Wesley College, a fee-paying school in South Dublin, is to receive €150,000 for a sports pitch while other schools requesting fewer funds and with greater need are not getting the full funding that they applied for. This is absolutely ridiculous when Wesley College could find the funds elsewhere where as a school in Tallaght would have more difficulty. Wesley College already has multiple sports pitches. Tallaght Community School applied for funding through the same grant scheme and received none. Many schools request “voluntary” contributions from parents in order to fund sports facilities or new buildings, much like UCD’s student centre levy. In some areas this can be a very heavy burden or simply cannot be afforded.

The class gap widens at each school stage. In secondary school some students get the opportunity to attend grinds while others may have to take on part-time jobs that may take from the time that they have to focus on studies.

Many Irish young people dream of getting a well-paid job in their favourite industry while others just want to afford to get by

Ireland’s ‘free fees’ at third level are simply a farce. The cost of registration is simply too high. This is easily proven by the fact that it is deemed necessary that we must have a grant system to help people pay these ‘free fees.’ Still these grants do not do enough to tackle the difficulties in attending university, particularly if you are moving to Dublin. UCD is one of the highest ranked universities in Ireland and it is supposed to cost the same to attend it as anywhere else in the country but to come here you will face the highest accommodation costs, the highest fines, and the highest resit and repeat fees of any institution in the country. Other universities and technical colleges across Dublin will also boast ridiculously high accommodation costs and it is not as if the university will provide the accommodation.

Whilst at university, some can afford expensive laptops and new books while others fight for what is available from the library. Some have to work part-time jobs while others spend their spare hours working on their essays. Some choose between rent and food. Access to internships and low-paying jobs that offer experience widens this gap. Internships are great if you are lucky enough to have parents who can and will fund you during this time. Many Irish young people dream of getting a well-paid job in their favourite industry while others just want to afford to get by. These things do not just affect your studies but your mind and your comfort.

With post-graduate education being charged at full price it is clear that the state is not helping in the way that it could.

The Irish education system is overdue a revamp. Equal access to education is something we would like to claim but it is not reality. Equal access should not just refer to your ability to enter school but also to receive a high quality of education and to have the same chance of receiving 600 points in your leaving cert as your friend whose parents drive Lexus jeeps. A good education and the most chances in life should not be down to how big your house is. The first step in fixing this should be actual free fees, and not loans that some of us can afford to pay off and others cannot.

I do not want to pretend that I do not benefit from the flaws in this system but what is the point in it if it only benefits the few who are lucky?