News Analysis: Student Protests

Image credit: courtesy of Roisin Guyett-Nicholson looks at the ongoing student protests in the UK and the perception of student apathy in Ireland. As has been well-documented in Ireland, the ever growing cost of accommodation and college fees has put increased pressure on students. With the budget outlining no changes in the registration fee, which reached €3,000 this year, opposition political parties have looked towards students as a potential voter’s market. Fianna Fáil recently announced plans to unveil a new student loans system with other student loans companies considering expansion to Ireland.Fees and college attendance is a contentious issue in most western countries, particularly in the UK.  Their election this year was marked by controversy over university fees with little attention being paid to students. Traditionally seen as a group who are least likely to vote in any election, when politicians start to make promises they seem to forget about students. As a result, students in both the UK and Ireland have seen large increases in college fees, not considering the general cost of third level. When cuts need to be made, politicians look at students as an easy group to target. Thinking that they’re not likely to vote, those in charge see no loss in political capital in striking at those in third level.This attitude is seen here in UCD with University management raising prices for on-campus accommodation, relying on the perceived apathetic nature of students and the turnover of classes.  Simply put, students are seen as not being active enough to force change to anything that affects them. The price hikes for accommodation on campus meant that there were still spaces available for students after term started. Despite the accommodation crisis, UCD still has housing available, simply because students cannot afford it. As the country begins to improve economically, students are still suffering.In the UK, those in third level face similar issues with rising fees that are much higher than those in Ireland. The recent protests in London arguably show a much more active group of students than those in Ireland. However, that is not to say that students here have not done their fair share of protesting. In 2010, when UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) was still a member, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) organised widespread protests against rising fees. Upwards of 25,000 were in attendance.Similarly in 2013 a “Res Rights Now” campaign was held on campus to protest the impending price hike on campus residence (which are due to increase again next year). Earlier this year students at the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) held protests over the college’s murky financial transactions. This is not the first such protest, with some concerns raised a number of years ago over the transferring of the accreditation of degrees from NCAD to UCD.Though students are sometimes seen as a group that has less political force than other groups, it would not be true to say that the group is apathetic. In fact the opposite is true as evidenced by the number of active charity societies on campus, such as Volunteers Overseas, Saint Vincent de Paul and Amnesty International.What is true is that students are among the more reluctant groups to vote. Though thousands of students registered to vote this year for the marriage referendum, this influx is issue based. If this particular constitutional change was not being considered, far less students would be on the electoral register.That is not to say that students are not active and informed members of society. By their definition, those in third-level education will be. They are simply less likely to vote in general elections.   Therefore when it comes time for politicians to make decisions, they leave student concerns at the bottom of their list.With the general election coming up in spring of next year, students need to show how active they are in society. A citizen who is involved in different organisations and works with various different groups to better society in general, even if they do not vote, is just as valuable as the citizen that does. The concerns and issues that they face should not be undermined simply because they have less political capital than other groups.