The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) will hold a protest in Dublin today in order to deliver a simple message to the government: “f*ck the fees”.
Protestors will gather on Dublin’s Molesworth street today at 2 p.m to demonstrate, following protests in Cork yesterday. A demonstration will also be held in Galway tomorrow. According to the USI’s website the protests are aiming to highlight “high fees, the rising cost of living, the soaring price of accommodation and underinvestment in higher education.”
Beth O’Reilly, Vice President of Campaigns for the USI spoke to the University Observer ahead of the planned demonstrations. O’Reilly stated that the simplistic language used to advertise the three regional protests was designed to attract students who “wouldn’t traditionally get involved with their SU or wouldn’t participate in politics.” She added that “we really want to take it back to basics; there is not a single student in the country that is happy about paying three grand in fees”. Furthermore, according to O’Reilly,, the previous year and a half which has seen the implementation of online learning and has restricted students' access to university facilities has prompted anger amongst the student population.
The Cassells report was published in 2016, despite this, the Department of Higher Education has yet to reach a decision on the findings of the report. The report set out three possible pathways for how universities could be funded in the future as well as examining the nature of student fees. One possible pathway set out in the report was the introduction of a student loan system, similar to that already in place in the U.K. However, Beth O’Reilly stated that is something the USI does not want to see, adding “that would see students graduate with 20 grand in debt.” Minister for Education, Simon Harris, has previously stated he would not support the student loans option. A verdict on the Cassells report pertaining to the future of higher education is expected later this year.
Two alternative options also available are the retention of the student contribution charge. The contribution charge is the system that is currently in place under which the cost of higher education for students is subsidised by the government. The final option is the abolition of the contribution in its entirety.
O’Reilly believes that the provision of entirely publicly funded higher education that's free at the point of use is not an unrealistic position, although it is an opinion that the USI comes up against a lot. “We have the highest fees in the EU, we are clearly doing something wrong.” According to O'Reilly the current situation is forcing students to travel abroad to receive an education that is to an equally high standard.
Beth also highlighted what she referred to as a “domino effect” whereby the cumulative costs of accessing higher education including rent and transport are unbearable for most students.
The Cassells report envisages that the abolition of the student contribution charge in favour of free higher education would cost the state an additional 1.3 billion euros per year.