THE value of education is something that will no doubt be debated as we approach next month’s budget. As the first one of a very shaky government and the first after the Cassells report on funding in higher education was released, there is huge pressure to find a realistic solution to the chronic lack of third level funding.
Over the summer the President of this University and the Provost of Trinity College, issued a joint statement condemning the lack of investment in the higher education sector. These claims are largely justified in the falling rankings of most Irish institutions, except NUIG, in the recent QS listings. UCD, for example, has fallen from being in the top 100 in 2009, to 176th this year.
Yet as students settle in for the first semester of this year, the efforts by universities, the government, and companies has been woefully inadequate. The accommodation crisis, which began to really hit students in 2013 has shown no signs of easing. Specific student accommodation sites next to UCD are still advertising despite the first week of classes being complete. Last year, UCD was still advertising on-campus residences after classes had started.
The plain fact of the matter is that a large number of students can’t afford to live in Dublin. The rates charged for supposedly student-aimed accommodation are just unfeasible. This either results in students commuting ridiculous distances to get to college or dropping out.
At the same time, registration fees have risen to €3,000 since 2011, though we allegedly still have “free” education. For students of UCD this cost is even higher as the student contribution charge, which covers the cost of the student centre, is included. In July, the Cassells’ Report outlined that continuing the current model of funding is just not practical.
Very often in order to afford fees and the cost of living, students have to find work outside of their regular college hours. We’re also expected to study full time and build up a CV through involvement in societies or sports.
All of this is exhausting yet overly common.
So why do students put themselves and their families through this pressure? Well, largely because that’s what companies expect from their new employees. The plain fact of the matter is that in order to find a decent job, people have to get a degree. While this has not always been true, it is the case today.
Yet companies and those who believe people should have degrees are doing very little to support students. While bodies like the Union of Students in Ireland do advocate for students, it is not solely their job to fix the lack of funding available for students.
The chronic lack of investment in education shows not only a disregard for the kind of education that is being provided but also the overwhelming lack of consideration for students in general. There is only so much that can actually be done by various students unions to highlight the problem.
Ultimately, there needs to be a significant shift from political parties and the companies that expect this from students. More support and an actual plan needs to be put in place, especially as student numbers are set to increase rapidly in the next five to ten years.