The Union of Students of Ireland (USI) announced their plans for their national demonstration on Monday 26 September in St Stephen’s Green.
The demonstration is set to take place on 19 October at the Garden of Remembrance and they are hopeful that it will draw up to 5000 students from across the country to take part.
The demonstration centres on the Cassells report, or the Report of the Expert Group on Future Funding for Higher Education, which was established to examine future funding requirements for higher education and to present options for developing a sustainable long term funding strategy for the sector. The expert group, chaired by Mr Peter Cassells, was set up in 2014 and in July of this year the report was forwarded to the Oireachtas for consideration.
The report outlines three possible avenues the government can take with regards to funding higher education; the first is a student loan system, the second an increase in the state’s funding of the sector from 64% to 80% to make higher education free at the point of access, and the third is to make higher education free and entirely funded by the state.
The USI are calling on the Irish government and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Skills to make a historic decision to follow the third option and invest in the publicly-funded third level education model as outlined in the report. The USI believe that the student loan option, which would be carried out on an income contingent basis, is inviable as the people of Ireland cannot afford to be saddled with student debts of figures around €20,000. Furthermore, the fear of such a burden upon graduation could act as a deterrent, rather than an incentive for many young people to pursue higher education.
The USI is keen to emphasise that it is not just students that are affected by the financial strains of third level education, with parents, children, staff and teachers all feeling the pressure of an unstable and pressurizing financial situation.
President of the USI Annie Hoey said; “We are calling on parents, teachers, family members, education staff and students to join in our march on 19 October, and to echo the concerns we have on the future of third level education.
“The status quo isn’t working. Third level education is unaffordable and our universities are slipping down on the QS World University Rankings. The loan scheme option put forward in the Cassells report is unsustainable. It will increase emigration, saddle young people with a mortgage-modelled debt and widen the gap between the rich and the poor.”
Evidence has also been put forward by the USI that publicly-funded higher education can have benefits for the performance of universities and students; Germany, which has no tuition fees, has 41 universities considered amongst the best in the world by the Times Higher Education and France, whose fees are only €200 have 27 in these rankings.
The USI are urging students from across the country to contact their local students’ unions if they want to join the demonstration, which is supported by members of the Coalition for Publicly Funded Higher Education including SIPTU, IMPACT, TUI, IFUT and the National Youth Council of Ireland.
The Students’ Union is selling tickets for the march from the Students’ Union Office for €2 and participants will also receive a t-shirt on the day. Buses will be departing from the Cathedral and Gort na Corribe at 9am, returning at approximately 7pm.
-By Aoife O’Donoghue